Area school district officials are optimistic about a bill by state Rep. Wayne Faircloth that would cut payments property-rich school districts must make to the state under the Robin Hood funding process.
“I know if we don’t put this in front of people and don’t get it on the radar, it’s not going to change,” Faircloth said. “In order to represent my district and do it well, we need to highlight some of the issues that negatively impact us on a consistent basis.”
Faircloth’s House Bill 4087, filed Friday, would cut districts’ recapture payments by 25 percent, allowing districts to use the money for their own maintenance and operations costs.
“There are so many things that we could have done with that $5 million, such as 3 to 5 percent pay raises for teachers and staff to roof repair and deferred maintenance,” said Matthew Hay, president of the Galveston Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Recapture is part of state legislation created in 1993. Under the law, tax revenue for maintenance and operation from property-wealthy school districts, such as Galveston, is taken and distributed to property-poor school districts.
Texas City and Galveston ISD are both considered property-rich districts, despite large percentages of economically disadvantaged students.
When Galveston was designated property-rich in 2006, the district sent $3 million to the state as part of recapture.
This year, Galveston ISD sent about $19.5 million in recapture payments to the state, Superintendent Kelli Moulton said.
“Ball High School needs over $5 million in repairs and we are sending millions of dollars to other schools across the state,” Faircloth said. “It makes perfect sense to take care of your own property before taking on the needs of others.”
For this school year, Galveston ISD saw its tax levy increase by about $6.3 million. Of that, $6 million is going into the recapture program — 96 percent of the levy increase.
Texas City ISD sent about $1.4 million to the state as part of recapture for the 2015-16 school year, records show.
The recapture payments come as districts across the state struggle to balance their budgets.
For the most recently passed budget, Galveston ISD officials anticipated bringing in a little more than $79 million in revenues while having total expenditures of about $80 million, leaving a deficit of a little more than $1 million.
Officials from Galveston County school districts added school finance reform to their list of legislative priorities as part of the Bay Area Consortium of Schools and have been urging lawmakers to solve the problem.
Officials from school districts varying in size pitched ideas for solving Texas’ school finance woes during a Texas House Public Education Committee hearing earlier this month in Austin. Ideas ranged from restructuring the recapture system to increasing funding to early childhood education.
The Texas Supreme Court in May ruled the way the state funds education is constitutional, but imperfect. The justices implored lawmakers to correct flaws in the system, but stopped short of ordering changes.
Faircloth’s filing, while coming late in the legislative session, was bright news for those urging finance reform.
“Given what we’ve heard from other legislative sources regarding lack of funds, I’m not sure where this will go,” Galveston Trustee Anthony Brown said. “That said, God bless him for trying.”