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