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Caitlyn Jones

Sunset of state funding could cost schools

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By Caitlyn Jones

The potential dissolution of a state-funding mechanism at the end of the school year could spell trouble for districts around the state, including some in Denton County.

Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction was introduced in 2006 as legislators worked to reduce property taxes. The funding was set aside to make sure districts that had to compress their tax rates did not lose money.

But because of a massive budget shortfall in 2011, the legislature made cuts to ASATR funding that year and decided the dollars would expire before the 2017-18 school year.

“There was nobody complaining when they compressed the tax rates in 2006,” Ponder ISD Superintendent Bruce Yeager said. “But the one question that was constantly asked was, ‘Will our schoolchildren suffer?’ The answer was consistently, ‘No, your schoolchildren will not have less funding.’ If [ASATR] goes away, that statement will not be true.”

More than 1,200 districts across Texas received ASATR funds totaling $5.6 billion in 2006. Ten years later, that number has dropped to 192 districts receiving $250 million. Legislators hoped all districts would be weaned off the system as local revenue rose, but that’s not the case for both the Ponder and Krum school districts.

In Krum ISD, ASATR funding makes up about 9 percent of the district’s current budget. If the funding dissipates, Krum would lose $2.5 million. Superintendent Cody Carroll said that number equates to roughly 50 teacher salaries.

“Now, we’re not planning [to cut teachers],” he said. “We would have to take a strong look at some of the programs we offer and whether or not we could continue down that road. There’s just no way to cut that amount out of supplies, and when 80 percent of your budget is payroll, that’s what you have to look at.”

About 20 percent of Ponder ISD’s budget is comprised of ASATR funding this year, but that number has been as high as 40 percent in the past. Yeager said the district would have to make tough decisions next year if the funding is eliminated.

“We’ve tightened our belt about as far as you can tighten,” he said. “However you slice it, when you start taking that money out, it’s going to be extremely painful.”

Both districts already have seen deficits in local funding because of a heavy dependence on mineral values, which have plunged statewide. According to 2016 certified tax rolls, Krum and Ponder saw a decrease of 20 and 24 percent, respectively, from their 2015 adjusted totals.

Although Krum and Ponder are rural districts, not all schools that receive ASATR fit that bill. While 83 percent are small schools, 13 percent are mid-sized and five districts are located in major suburban areas. Nearly two-thirds of ASATR districts pay recapture, which is when school districts send money back to the state to redistribute wealth. Three-fourths of those districts serve student populations where more than half are economically disadvantaged.

The state House of Representatives will hold a joint committee hearing on Sept. 28-29 in Austin to discuss ASATR funding. Superintendents, administrators and taxpayers will have the opportunity to talk about the impact on districts if the funding goes away. Residents also are encouraged to contact their local representatives in Denton County.

“We’re not asking for more money or anything like that,” Carroll said. “We just want the promise that was made back in 2006 to remain in place.”

 

CAITLYN JONES be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @CjonesDRC.