The landscape of Sherwood Forest is changing, but Robin Hood is alive and well. A trial court held that Texas’ current school finance system is unconstitutional, but there was no ruling that the “share the wealth” aspect of the system must be discontinued. The court upheld the principles of adequacy and equity, and that ruling will be reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court in 2005. The Texas legislature may address the finance system during the regular session that begins in January, but some in Austin will seek to defer action until the Supreme Court opines on the issue.

What is the short-term impact for the stakeholders of RISD? Until a new system is eventually in place:

  • RISD must STILL make its Robin Hood payments
  • RISD must STILL survive on a fixed income
  • RISD must STILL maintain sufficient financial reserves
  • RISD must STILL balance its budget
  • RISD must STILL cut $8+ million from the 2005-2006 budget, and more cuts must be made in 2006-2007 and beyond.

The upcoming budget cuts will directly impact the programs and people of RISD. The $50 million of cuts in the past three years have been “phantom” cuts not readily noticed by the public (e.g., reduction in administration). We are prioritizing the additional reductions, and the picture is not pretty. No single budget cut will solve our problem. Rather, a combination of cuts is necessary. Options include decisions to:

  • Consolidate small or underutilized schools
  • Eliminate Spanish classes in elementary schools
  • Eliminate instrumental music in elementary schools
  • Increase class sizes in 5th and 6th grade to 30 to 1
  • Require secondary teachers to teach six of seven class periods
  • Close facilities like the planetarium and environmental center
  • Impose fees to participate in extracurricular activities
  • Eliminate certain athletic teams
  • Freeze salaries

We could avoid such actions by paying for operating expenses from our financial reserves, but that is a dangerous course. We could further reduce (or even eliminate) the optional homestead exemption, but that would further burden our taxpayers.

The RISD community has trusted and supported the school board, administration and staff during “good times.” I assure you that we will be diligent and vigilant as we face the challenges of these financial “bad times.” We will strive to fulfill our goal of “fiscal responsibility, efficiency, and effectiveness in all operations.” Moreover, we will focus on our mission to foster students’ academic excellence, personal growth and civic responsibility.