2011 TASA Legislative Conference Report

March 31, 2011

Report from Austin Legislative Conference

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 was a busy day at the State Capital. The day began with a conference attended by 1000 School Superintendents and School Board Members from across the state. We heard from Senator Shapiro and Representative Eissler on the progress from their prospective Education Committees. The message was very different and indicated that there is a deep chasm between the thinking of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Let’s start with the good news first. On the Senate side of the Capital, SB 6 has narrowed the funding gap to 4 Billion dollars over the next two years. You will remember we started the session at a 10 Billion dollar gap. Members of the Senate Education Committee have been willing to look at a wide range of options to bring funds back into the picture of the education of our students. There is even talk of a new funding system being developed that will eliminate the inequity of the Target Revenue System of funding by the year 2014! The news gets even better if you consider that there is no Economic Stabilization Funds (Rainy Day) included in this bill as written. Many of the Senators have already expressed their support for the use of this fund and that would narrow the gap even further bringing the state very close to matching current funding levels.

The picture in the House of Representatives is not as promising. HB 1 was voted out of committee onto the floor at 7.9 Billion dollars short of current law requirements. The members of the committee are not willing to use the “Rainy Day Fund” to close the gap and did not support the strategies being employed by the Senate to create SB 6. Despite a great deal of evidence that this gap can not be closed with cuts alone, the House is moving forward with the plan to create a Revenue Neutral “Balanced” Budget on the backs of the public school children of Texas. The cuts in education and many other service industries in the state will not benefit the economy. Using this level of cuts to balance the budget will cost tens of thousands of Texans their jobs and put an unmanageable strain on the state’s social services. Members of the House will tell you that this is the mandate that they were sent to Austin to accomplish and that the majority of the voters approve of their actions and intentions. I find it very difficult to believe that any group would intentionally promote the destruction of the Public School Education System and the State’s economy just to put a few dollars (very few) in their bank account.

What to do?
• Continue to write, email and call your Legislators and let them know you are still monitoring this issue. Include all the members that were included on the list provided earlier this spring.
• Express your appreciation to the Senators that have exhibited the courage to lead by example during this difficult planning process and encourage them to continue.
• Encourage the members of the House of Representatives to review the Senate plan and move forward to create a budget that does not severely damage the Local School District’s ability to provide services to their students.
• Continue to support the use of the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to close the gap in the funding for Public School Education. The price of a barrel of oil remains well over the $70 per barrel threshold that puts money into the ESF. There is a legal cap on the total amount of money that can be held in the ESF. The money is needed. The fund was created specifically for this purpose and due to the price of oil, the fund will replenish itself. The local school district’s fund balance will not replenish itself if depleted.
• Finally, be vocal in your local community about the positive things that are happening at your school. Many of the people that favor cuts over revenue think that our public schools are a failure. They see money spent on Public Education as money thrown away with no benefits in return. It is our obligation to be ambassadors for the schools that we love.

The news is better but the process is far from over. Thank you for your involvement and your continued contribution to the commitment we all share in providing a quality education for our children. I firmly believe that the destruction of our Public School System will bring about the destruction of our State. Do not allow that to take place.

White Oak ISD’s response to our Legislators

March 23, 2011

White Oak ISD’s response to our Legislators

On March 4, 2011, petitions were delivered to Representative David Simpson’s office in Austin. The petitions included names and addresses of registered voters that were not in favor of the deep cuts being proposed in the Texas Public School System, and more specifically, White Oak ISD. At the same time, a large number of WOISD employees and residents wrote letters to several of our legislators expressing the same opinion on cutting funds for Texas Public Education. In response, we were given the following information:

• The Legislature is in this difficult position with the budget this year due to the downturn in the economy.
• Texas applies between 41 to 43 percent of the total state budget to Public School Education. Even with the cuts being proposed, this percentage remains the same.
• Districts do not need to cut cost by a Reduction In Force of Classroom Teachers. The cuts should be made by downsizing the District’s Administrative staff.

I would like to address each of these issues.

Blaming the current budget crisis on a downturn in the economy is not an accurate statement. The current issue we face can be linked back to a decision made by the Texas Legislature in the 80th Legislative Session. Tax compression was the goal of this session and the desire to make that happen outweighed any level of logic that could have/should have been applied to the process. The decision to compress the property by 33% was intended to fulfill the campaign promises made by those that obtained or sustained their place in office. The loss in revenue from the reduction was to be made up by the implementation of the “Margins Tax” on Texas Businesses. The budget shortfall
we face today started with the vote to compress the tax rate. In a letter sent to Governor Perry dated May 15, 2006 (http://www.window.state.tx.us/news/60515letter.html) Texas Comptroller Strayhorn stated that this rate compression would result in a shortfall of 23 Billion Dollars in five years. The year 2006 plus five years equal the year 2011 and the only thing she got wrong was the size of the shortfall! Comptroller Strayhorn did not predict a “downturn in the economy”. She did let state leaders know that the plan they put in place created a structural deficit that could have/should have been avoided at that time. If, by choice, the legislature voted to create this problem then, by choice, they should look for sources of revenue to solve the problem.
When we start to read about money issues in the form percentages, something is not right. Money is money and can be compared apples to apples across state lines. Representative Simpson uses percentages to indicate the level of commitment the state applies to Public Education. Appyling 41 to 43 percent of the budget to Public Education sounds like a firm commitment. The actual dollar comparisons do not paint the same picture. The latest data that I have been able to find shows Texas to rank between 43rd to 37th in per pupil spending out of 51 states and the District of Columbia. (http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2011/jan/31/wendy-davis/state-sen-wendy-davis-says-texas-ranks-44th-educat/) This information does not support the idea that Texas Public Schools are over funded and riddled with unnecessary personnel. Texas Public Schools have traditionally been funded well below the national average but at the same time, have led the way in school reform, assessment, accountability and improved scores for all socio-demographic subpopulations.
The third point to address is the idea that cuts can be made in administrative cost rather than through a Reduction In Force of educators and support staff. The highest paid employee of every public school district is the Superintendent of Schools. The latest TASBO salary information shows that Texas superintendent salaries average $120,000 per year. If every one of these positions were to be eliminated (1024 public school districts), the 5 Billion dollar cut expected from public schools would be reduced to a mere 4.9 Billion. If you want to use percentages, that would be a 2.4% reduction in the shortfall. Can certain positions be eliminated? Yes, but for the most part that would require the elimination of state and federal mandates that make up the bulk of the duties for these added positions. The cost savings will be very minimal.
As Superintendent of White Oak ISD, I recognize that we are in a financial crisis of greater magnitude than the state has ever seen before. I also understand that there is a need to tighten the belt to get through this difficult time. I do not believe that this can be accomplished with budget cuts alone. The Texas Comptroller told the Legislature in 2006 that this problem was coming and they chose to ignore the facts. The Texas Comptroller is telling the Legislature today that this financial crisis can not be solved with budget cuts alone and this time I hope they listen. For Public Schools, EQUITY IS THE ISSUE AND THE ONLY LONG TERM SOLUTION. As long as there are schools held under a system of Target Revenue that funds some students at less than $4,000 each while funding others at over $12,000 each, Equity can not be achieved. White Oak ISD is a Low Target Revenue School District ($4,954 per wada). We have “shared the pain” much longer than those districts being funded above the state average ($5,200 per wada). Those districts that have been funded at the higher value should absorb more of the cuts in state funding before WOISD sees a loss of state funds. I would ask our Legislative Leaders to listen to the experts and the Majority of your constituents and support the efforts to minimize the damage to our Texas Public School System. I would ask those of you that read this response to continue writing, emailing and calling your representatives. When they stop hearing from us, they assume we no longer care about the issue at hand. Please, do not let that happen.

Michael E. Gilbert
Superintendent of Schools
White Oak ISD

What does the worst case scenario look like at White Oak ISD?

The letter that follows this introduction was written to express the overwhelming concern of the employees at White Oak ISD. This is a real life crisis in the Texas Public School community.

March 2, 2011

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
PO Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428

Governor Perry,

I am an employee of the White Oak Independent School District and a resident of Senate District 1 and House District 7. The news that is coming out of Austin concerning the funding of Texas Public Schools is very upsetting. In a meeting with members of the House and Senate this week, our Superintendent was told to plan for the worst case scenario in preparing for the 2011/2012 District Operating Budget. The worst case scenario for White Oak is a decrease in funds of 1.4 million dollars or 14.3% of this year’s operating budget. Cuts of this magnitude will be catastrophic to White Oak ISD and the city of White Oak, Texas.
The question is, what would it take to meet this requirement with a revenue neutral budget? In White Oak, it will look like this:
• Cut all employee salaries/pay by 10%. (which is actually illegal by state law)
• Cancel all athletic programs and eliminate the Athletic Director’s position
• Cancel the Marching Band and UIL Band/Choral Programs
• Cancel all UIL Academic Competition
• Cancel all Cheerleader, Flags and Twirler programs
• Cancel all travel and professional development
When all of these cuts have been implemented, White Oak ISD will still be short of the target by over $350,000. That will mean a reduction in force of 8 professional staff members or 14 support staff members in addition to the cuts listed above.
It is my hope that you are not in favor of the destruction of White Oak ISD and many other districts across the state. I am asking for your support in the form of your vote on the following issues:
• Vote Against the current funding plan for Public Education
• Vote Against funding cuts to low target revenue school districts (Hold Harmless Target Revenue below $5,000 per wada) until high target revenue school funds have been reduced to our level
• Vote For the use of the Economic Stabilization Fund to minimize funding cuts in Public Education
• Vote For a new equitable funding system for Public Schools that does not depend on Hold Harmless Target Revenue values
The community, faculty, staff, and most importantly, the students of White Oak Independent School District need your support. Thank you for your service to the citizens of your district and to the Great State of Texas.

Every employee of every school district in Texas can put together the same type of information and let our Legislator’s know the real cost of the proposed cuts!