The 2005 Texas Legislative session is adjourned and a new plan for school finance has been given an "incomplete grade." Governor Rick Perry had called education funding a priority and now there is no finance plan for him to sign. A state district judge ruled the state's school funding system unconstitutional. He ordered that school funding problems be fixed by October 2005 or state money for schools would cease. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal to that ruling on July 6th.
Until that time, Texas School Districts must budget for next school year without knowing what type of funding the state will provide. But how will this affect area schools? Right now the state funds about 30% of Lubbock Independent School District's budget. Ideally, school officials say the state would provide 60%. That's an estimated $1,100 more per student. LISD is the largest school district on the South Plains with almost 30,000 students, making it even more challenging to run the district without an idea of what to expect from the state.
"Trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together and you've got two or three pieces that are lost," explains LISD Superintendent Wayne Havens. He compares this to mapping out the district's school budget for the 2005 to 2006 year. Without knowing what state funding will be he says the task will be challenging. "I would anticipate the budget we come into this year will be less than what we're working under right now," he says.
Right now, LISD's total budget is about $200 million. To calculate the incoming school year's budget, Havens says the school board will use last year's figures, taking into consideration expected expenditures and revenue. "We'll go back and look to see if we're going to have enough revenues to meet that, if we don't then we'll reduce our budget again," explains Havens.
Every year LISD hires about 300 teachers, but this year, funding will force the district to hire less teachers. The good news: despite the setback, he says teacher salary increase will be a priority on the list. "If there is any money at all it will go to teacher salaries," he adds.
Havens says historically, the state funding for school districts goes down when property values increase. The proposed school finance plan would have helped offer property tax relief to school districts, but it would have added taxes on several other items, like cigarettes, sodas, and other snacks.
Though he hasn't called one yet, Governor Perry does have the authority to call a special 30 day session. Tuesday, he said he would continue to do everything he could to finalize a deal between the house and senate.
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