Projected shortfall could mean $12.6M less from state in 2011-12

Although it is not yet clear just how big financial hole state legislators face while preparing for the next biannual budget process what is clear is that dire speculation over spending cuts is mounting.

With deficit estimates ranging from $15 to $25 billion, concern is particularly acute within Texas public education sector – segment comprising roughly 40 percent of the state’s revenue budget in the current fiscal year.

In the Killeen Independent School District, which in 2010-11 received $210.7 million in state revenue, administrators seem wary to begin discussing a potential loss of funds and what it could mean for students.  Interviewed last week, Killeen ISD Superintendent Robert Muller acknowledge the discussions taking place among educators are concerning, yet stressed he could not talk in absolutes until the comptroller’s office hands down definitive figures in January.

“I think everybody is concerned,” Muller said.  “Say, for example our revenue is the same as this year. Even that is a concern if you are growing, but the degree to which it is a concern is still unknown at this point.”

Looking at Killeen ISD’s overall revenue stream for 2010-11, state money is by far the biggest chunk, followed by $65.5 million in federal aid and 62 million from local taxes.  While Muller said he couldn’t speculate on potential scenarios, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he estimates school districts could receive around 6 percent less state money than is currently allocated.  If true that would mean Killeen ISD potentially will take a $12.6 million hit.

Painful choices

Aycock said he foresees the session bring about painful choices across the board, not just in education.  Compounding that reality is the current political landscape where voters seem to have no tolerance for talk of tax hikes.

“When your $24 to $25 billion short, it is going to b a really unpleasant experience,” Aycock said.  “Voters clearly spoke that they don’t want any new taxes.  They sent a loud message and every official in the state heard it.  We say okay; we understand, no new taxes but at the same time I hope everybody realizes cuts do not occur without some level of discomfort.”

Aycock’s predictions might carry even more weight considering he sits on three committees – appropriations, public education and the subcommittee on education – which will play crucial roles in the upcoming battle to fund schools.  But as challenging as the issues facing lawmakers are, Aycock said he still plans to push for new work on simplifying the funding formula used to finance public schools.  The chapters in the Texas Education Code dealing with equity of revenue distribution is at the heart of the complexity, the legislator said.  While student enrollment figures are the chief  factor in determining district’s revenue shares from the state for example numerous other determinants are considered including student demographics and local property tax scenarios – the latter source being anything but fixed.

“Simplifying school finance code is something really high on my priority list,” Aycock said.  “I wish I had some easy solution on how to fill $20 Billion plus hole but I don’t have one.”

Muller said a budget workshop using figures based on the current school year will likely take place among Killeen ISD Board of Trustees members in December.  If new revenue figures are plugged in that turn out to mean cuts in the district’s budget, Muller said. the priority will be on services as far away from students as possible.

“We would want to look at those things that have the least impact directly on students,” Muller said.  “But, I will tell you that while hat may sound good, there are very few things that are like that because every thing touches students in some way.”

by Andy Ross – Killeen Daily Herald