On Monday, Oct. 19, the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District board of trustees will hold its annual Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) Hearing at 6 p.m. and its regular board meeting at 6:15 p.m. Once again, Burnet CISD has received a Superior Rating for financial integrity, and the hearing will provide details about that accomplishment.
In addition to the perfect score on the FIRST Rating, I have shared previously that the board of trustees in August approved paying off $1.5 million in bond debt early and lowering the tax rate to a historic low of $1.146.
All of this great financial news is due to outstanding planning on behalf of the Board of Trustees with support from increased property values. School districts across the Hill Country have benefited from increased property values, but it is not an accident that Burnet CISD has the second-lowest tax rate in the Hill Country or the second-lowest student-to-debt ratio among area school districts.
A state and national trend that is affecting Burnet CISD this year is a decrease in student enrollment, largely attributed to parents keeping their pre-K and kindergarten-age students at home due to the pandemic instead of enrolling them in school. The conventional wisdom for now is that many of those students will return to school next year, especially since first grade is the first year of compulsory attendance.
This one-year drop in enrollment will impact the current year’s budget. The board of trustees will discuss the impact to the budget at the October board meeting. Fortunately, the board of trustees approved over three years ago to set aside $1 million in fund balance in case of a future decrease in school funding. While the board had no idea that the decrease would be caused by a pandemic, history informed them that a decrease in school funding was something they should plan for. This additional example of strong, proactive planning on the part of the board will allow the district to manage the loss of funding this year due to the dip in enrollment.
As we enter the 87th legislative session in January, Texas is facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit. With health and education accounting for more than 70 percent of state spending, it seems unlikely that schools will escape the impact of the state’s budget woes. If there ever was a time for the state to double down on education spending, it is now. As has been proven during the pandemic, schools are a vital part of a healthy economy. Workers can go to work and not worry about their children being at home alone, and educated graduates are better prepared to contribute to the workforce.
Schools must spend more money to educate students than ever before, especially given all of the additional health and safety measures. Now is not the time to reduce funding to schools. Before local schools lose any core funding, costly statewide initiatives like mandated incentive pay and legislated teacher reading academies should be put on the shelf and dusted off later when Texas is not in a budget crunch.
When a district’s revenue is reduced, the district must respond with reducing its operating budget. One option to reduce an operating budget is to take care of capital needs through other funding sources like bond funds. BCISD delayed the 2020 bond due to COVID-19, but the needs continue to exist and with the passage of time, increase. As an example, the HVAC system at Burnet High School was not included in the 2020 bond program, but today that system is approaching 20 years old. During even the healthiest of economic times, the operating budget cannot accommodate such a large need, and that is especially true now.
The board and administration will soon begin discussing adjustments and refinements to its 5-10 year facilities plan, and that will include a future bond program to maintain and enhance our facilities. The good news is, because of outstanding planning, the Burnet CISD community would be able to enjoy the lowest tax rate in its history AND approve a bond program that would not impact the tax rate. I look forward to sharing more information with you as we plan for the future.