Local ISD Evaluates Budget Options

School lockers in hallway | Image by Si Vo/Shutterstock

The board of trustees for the Richardson Independent School District (RISD) convened this month to try to figure out how to deal with its potential eight-figure budget shortfall.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, RISD found itself at a crossroads in February, facing the reality of declining enrollment at a time of unprecedented spending that led to an estimated deficit of more than $20 million going into the 2023-2024 academic year.

The meeting held on March 9, however, saw clear options laid out before school board members, who heard district officials explain that they needed to cut spending, boost student enrollment, and take in more taxpayer money.

David Pate, RISD’s assistant superintendent of finance and support services, summed the situation up succinctly: “We have decreasing enrollment, resulting in reduced funding, excess campus capacity … and lower student-to-staff ratios.”

In Texas, state funding for education is largely tied to the individual student being educated by the school system, leaving districts to raise the remaining necessary funds by taxing residents of the district.

Pate noted that RISD has already moved to shore up its balance sheet by eliminating 14 positions at its central office, freeing up $1.2 million of taxpayer money.

Aside from increasing efficiencies, he said the district could also move to do away with RISD’s optional homestead exception:

“I have consulted with the district’s property tax council, and they advised me that [we] would need to repeal a local optional homestead exemption by July 1,” Pate said. “The repeal of the local optional homestead exemption, based on 2021-2022 data, would yield approximately $7.8 million in additional revenue.”

The local homestead exemption provides district tax relief to district homeowners to the tune of 10%. RISD is one of three school districts in Dallas County that currently offer such relief, according to Community Impact.

He also said that the school board could put it to district voters to raise property taxes to bolster RISD’s maintenance and operation budget.

The issues facing RISD are not unique to the district. The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District is also coming up short in terms of student enrollment, with corresponding consequences for its budget, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.

Dallas Independent School District (DISD), the second-biggest public school system in the state, has also seen a consistent decline in enrollment over the last decade.

DISD is also struggling with student achievement outcomes. The district’s latest Texas Education Agency accountability report noted that only 41% of its students scored at grade level on the STAAR Exam, significantly below the 48% statewide average.

The Dallas Express reached out to RISD and asked whether the district plans to implement teacher layoffs if it cannot find a way to boost enrollment or levy more taxes on residents.

Tim Clark, executive director of communications, responded in an email:

“The Board is just over two months from finalizing the operating budget, and discussions and decisions about the further use of one-time funds, impacts on taxpayers, and overall staffing levels have not yet been made.

“As stated in discussions so far, any staffing reductions are expected to be absorbed through annual teacher/staff attrition, and layoffs (reduction in force) are not anticipated under any scenario.”

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