Cy-Fair budget retains optional homestead exemption
The Cy-Fair school board approved a balanced $673.7 million budget for 2011-12 that continues optional homestead exemptions for taxpayers, but trustees let a vocal group of homeowners know the tax break is "a privilege, not a right."
The budget is approximately $37 million less than last year's spending plan.
Lida Woodul, the longest-serving member on the board, went so far as to tell the group that attended the June 30 special meeting to stop "being negative" and instead to volunteer to help local schools.
She and other board members predict continued cuts in state funding will impact the quality of education the state's largest recognized district can provide.
If that happens, it will be more difficult for the board to continue granting the exemptions, they said.
"We don't want to hurt anyone out there, but we do want to continue the good education we have," said trustee Bill Morris.
Trustee Bob Covey suggested homeowners speak to state legislators if they want to preserve the optional 20 percent homestead exemption.
"Austin is pushing us to get rid of it," Covey said. "Tell them to stop penalizing us for having it."
Trustee Larry Youngblood added, "We will have to keep fighting for those exemptions. We will have to keep fighting for more funding. We're still very much underfunded at the state level."
Board members viewed per-student costs for Cy-Fair and neighboring districts for the 2010-11 school year. Cy-Fair budgeted $6,649 per student, while Katy ISD budgeted $7,358 and Houston ISD budgeted $8,042.
Stuart Snow, associate superintendent for business and financial services, said Austin ISD's per-student cost is $8,600 in 2011-12 while Cy-Fair's decreases to $6,256. AISD, which has 20,000 fewer students, does not grant an optional homestead exemption, he added.
Still, those who spoke during the public hearing on the budget continue to advocate for more belt-tightening.
Ross DePaul, an attorney, released a well-circulated list of expenditures for items like doughnuts, pizzas and sports tickets, which school administrators insist reflects expenditure of private funds by school organizations, not taxpayer dollars.
"If you give me more time, we'll go over this budget line by line," DePaul said.
The district has cut spending by $73 million the past four years, according to district officials. This year's budget imposes additional cuts of $47 million in the coming school year and $11 million in 2012-13.
The reduction this year is absorbed mostly by lowered employee health-care costs, a reduction in central administration jobs and expenses and increased class sizes in kindergarten through fourth grade.
Until next year, class size in K-4 has been limited to 22 students per teacher. The limit now becomes a districtwide average, with class size capped at a maximum of 25 students. The adjustment eliminates 214 teaching positions, Snow said.
Local taxes, which remain unchanged, provide 48 percent of revenue to the district, $323.6 million. The tax rate is $1.43 per $100 of assessed property value.
State funds add $302 million in revenue, and federal and miscellaneous sources add $48 million.
Payroll is the largest expense, $587.6 million. Of that amount, about 67 percent is for teachers. The school district will spend $449 million on instruction.
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