Tough decisions ahead for Cy-Fair

June 8, 2009 5:34:37 PM PDT
A Houston area school district in a tough spot. it has a multi-million dollar deficit and no way to make up the difference. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD is facing an almost $29 million shortfall. The district says it has three options to come up with the money. And one of those could lead to a big hike in homeowners' property taxes.

Lisa Fallin thinks about the future. With six kids, she says she has to think about their education.

"If we're not thinking about now and willing to pay for what we have now, then we won't be willing to pay for what's in the future," she said. "And our kids are very important to us."

To pay for the future education of their 100,000 plus student body, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD says they need more taxpayer money. With a deficit of more than $28 million, Cy-Fair has already cut 450 jobs.

"So here we are again," said Cy Fair Spokesperson Kelli Durham. "We looked for relief and we don't have that. We're very sensitive to our community, however we're also sensitive to the 104,000 students we'll be teaching next year."

To meet those needs, Cy-Fair ISD is thinking about doing away with their homestead exemption, which was set more than 25 years ago at 20 percent off the value of a home before it's taxed. Doing away with it would give the district an estimated $35 million in operating funds.

It would also mean taxes would go up for homeowners, about $248 more per year on a home valued at $100,000. If Cy-Fair keeps the homestead exemptions, they anticipate another severe round of layoffs of another 400 employees.

Much of the problem, say officials, is with state funding. Cy-Fair ISD is the third largest district in the state, but gets less per student than other surrounding districts.

Despite dire consequences, getting voter approval will be tricky.

"We don't need layoffs," said Rebecca Corty, who's for the proposal. "I'd be willing to pay it."

"I'm not for raising taxes," countered Tasmia Gant. "I'm dead against it."

"I'd hate to see anyone lose their job," added Don Sparks," who opposes the proposal. "But the fact of the matter is all your big companies, your school districts, even individuals, we have to tighten our belts."

The school board will have a special meeting Tuesday about the proposal. This is expected to be put on the agenda for June 15, at which time the school board is expected to vote on it.

The district says it has things it must pay for in the next budget year. That includes hiring staff for 3,000 new students, which will cost about $10 million. Cy-Fair will also open three new schools at a cost of $6 million. The district also hopes to give raises to employees, since it wasn't able to last year.

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