“Dallas ISD Deficit: $64 Million”
“Shortfall Now $84 Million”
“DISD Lays Off Hundreds of Teachers”
Like you, I was stunned and dismayed by these recent headlines. I could not answer your most of immediate questions: “How can someone make a $64 million mistake?” “What was the superintendent and school board doing (or not doing)?” “What will happen to the students?”
Fortunately, I did have answers to your questions that hit closer to home.
“Is Richardson ISD in good financial condition?” Yes! In fact, RISD is the envy of other school districts because of our balanced budget, great bond rating, and prudent financial management.
“Does RISD have enough money in savings to weather a budget crunch?” Yes! RISD has very strong financial reserves.
“Are you guys paying attention to our tax dollars?” Yes! My fellow trustees and I realize that we are “entrusted” to manage, invest, and protect your financial investment in our public schools, and we constantly and vigilantly work to maintain your trust.
Like you, I am proud of the RISD legacy of excellence in the classroom and the development of well-rounded students. In the same vein, we can be proud of RISD’s excellent track record of paying attention to the “business” of education. Major thanks and kudos go to Tony Harkleroad, assistant superintendent for finance and support services, and his staff. RISD has maintained strong bond ratings and developed a multi-year financial forecast and budget. The RISD financial team also ensures that we collect our taxes at a very high rate, pay our debts faster than any other district, and receive a clean report from our external auditors.
A word of caution. Despite the sound condition of RISD’s finances, it is important to remember that we are still in a school finance crisis. Although many Texas legislators claimed that they “fixed” the school finance system during their last session in Austin, the only thing “fixed” for RISD is the amount of tax revenue that the state allows us to retain for our operating budget. Based upon last session’s “fix”, the amount of RISD tax revenue that stays here in the district is capped at the 2005-2006 revenue level — and we cannot increase that amount. RISD’s retained revenue has been “frozen” for the past three years despite inflation and significant increases in many costs, such as utilities and insurance. Although property values have increased, RISD retains none of the extra tax revenue — that money goes to the state coffers. RISD will be required this year to send a $20 million dollar Robin Hood payment to Austin.
Living on a fixed income, RISD has been forced to make budget cuts, and more cuts will be necessary without relief from the state. Let me anticipate several of your questions: (1) Yes, we continue to cut administrative costs; in fact, the percent of our budget spent on administration is one of the lowest in the state; (2) we continue to be competitive in the salary market to recruit and retain a high-performing staff; and (3) we strive to minimize the impact of our cuts on the classroom.
Our attention now turns to the upcoming legislative session. The RISD Board of Trustees recently adopted a set of legislative priorities, and school finance remains our top priority. We will work toward legislation that will allow RISD to retain more revenue, add an inflation index to current funding formulas, and provide funding necessary to implement and maintain state mandates.
As always, your trustees welcome your questions and input, and we value your support for the students, staff and programs of Richardson ISD.
See you at school.