Here's what we know about Cy-Fair ISD's budget reduction plans for 2024-25

ByDanica Lloyd Community Impact Newspaper logo
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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CYPRESS, Texas -- Cy-Fair ISD officials plan to eliminate 618 positions ahead of next school year due to an impending shortfall in the 2024-25 fiscal year budget.

While about 4% of staff roles are being cut, Superintendent Doug Killian said displaced employees will have the opportunity to move into vacant positions elsewhere.

Filling open positions for teachers and paraprofessionals who support classrooms will be the top priority, he said.

"All of our staff members are very important to us, and all the positions serve a very important and crucial need in our school district," Killian said at the May 6 board meeting. "But with that, we still have to make cuts because we're $138 million shy of a balanced budget, and we don't have enough fund balance to be able to make it through next year by just simply not doing anything."

Even after administrators identified $58 million in budget cuts, Chief Financial Officer Karen Smith said the district will need to use reserves to fill a remaining $77.5 million gap.

Despite starting each of the past three years with a deficit budget, our fund balance remains healthy today due to the sound financial management by our CFO and this cabinet.
Julie Hinaman, Cy-Fair ISD trustee

What's happening

CFISD officials said this shortfall was not a surprise as pandemic-era federal stimulus funding will be depleted by the end of June, and the 88th Texas Legislature didn't increase public school funding despite the district's advocacy efforts.

Shortly after Killian assumed his role earlier this year, he posted a community survey on the district's website seeking cost-saving and revenue-generating ideas. CFISD's budget reduction advisory committee then recommended $45.5 million in cuts in April.

But this fell short of the administration's initial goal of $68 million, so Killian said principals recommended eliminating 50 librarians. Instead of having 92 campus librarians, 42 district librarians will each oversee multiple campuses in 2024-25.

"(Staff members) do a lot with a little, and we're asking them (to) do a lot more with a lot less. I understand that may mean that we need to pitch in more at the central office, and we will do that going forward," Killian said.

In addition to staffing reductions, the board will consider approving bus route cuts to save $4.72 million in transportation services.

If approved, this would include:

  • Not serving elementary students within 1 mile of campus or middle or high school students within 2 miles of campus-exceptions would be made for those on routes with hazardous traffic conditions

  • Eliminating late bus runs

  • Eliminating service to alternative learning centers

We intend to provide the same money that staff are getting right now in those new positions ... We don't want this to hurt anyone's bottom line because we know that people live from paycheck to paycheck.
Doug Killian, Cy-Fair ISD superintendent

Many speakers at May board meetings blamed Gov. Greg Abbott for the shortfall, claiming he withheld adequate funding from public schools during the 88th Texas Legislature in 2023 in pursuit of a school voucher program.

Despite reducing positions, the administration also proposed a 2% raise for teachers, paraprofessionals, and hourly staff and a 1% raise for the administration. To compete with neighboring districts such as Tomball and Katy ISD, CFISD will also increase the starting teacher salary from $62,000 to $63,000. These increases combined will cost $17 million, Smith said.

CFISD paraprofessional Ondrea Love said she and her husband, who are both diabetics, take turns going to the doctor and getting the medications they need, and she expressed concerns about the proposed raises.

"We are greatly undervalued in our positions," she said. "Giving us a 2% raise is barely enough to cover the cost of inflation and rising insurance (costs)."

How we got here

District officials said several factors over the past few years have contributed to higher costs for the district while it has brought in less revenue in some areas.

Since 2019-20:

  • There has been a 19% increase in general inflation with no state funding increases.

  • $15 million is deducted in annual revenue from a 1.94% decrease in student attendance.

  • The district spent $26.7 million to add staff to accommodate growth.

  • $180.6 million went to salary increases and retention stipends.

  • Increases to special education, bilingual education and security expenses cost $71 million.

  • Federal stimulus funding brought in a total of $291.3 million and is no longer available.

Did you know?

The Texas Legislature determines how much funding each school district receives, filling the gap after accounting for local property tax revenue.

CFISD has offered residents a local optional homestead exemption since 1983. Smith said the 20% exemption saves the average homeowner $757 in property taxes annually but costs the district $63 million in lost revenue since the state assumes the district still receives that funding and doesn't make up the difference.

Legislators passed a law last year prohibiting districts from removing local optional homestead exemptions until 2028.

"We made the option to do a local optional homestead exemption. That's something that we did locally, and that cost us local revenue, not state revenue. The state doesn't make up for that," Killian said. "While it's in vogue to blame other people, we're also partially responsible for the situation we're in, too."

These budget cuts will impact every CFISD educator, every CFISD parent and student.
Nikki Cowart, president, Cy-Fair American Federation of Teachers

What's next

Killian suggested an efficiency audit to identify long-term solutions. He said he was hopeful CFISD could recover eliminated positions as additional revenue comes in, but there could also be more cuts in the coming year to provide more flexibility for the future.

District officials and local legislators are advocating for up to 50% of the lost homestead exemption funding from the Texas Education Agency's surplus by August. Additionally, Killian said they will advocate for a bill to remove the homestead exemption penalty next legislative session.

I know people want the board to identify the bad actors who got us into this situation, but we're not going to point fingers, and we're not going to attack anyone because truthfully, we all played a role in this saga.
Justin Ray, Cy-Fair ISD trustee

The district could also hold a voter-approved tax rate election in November to generate $109 million in additional taxpayer dollars if approved.

"It's not something that people want to do; it's not something that's attractive to a school board to go out there and call for an election and ask for the local taxpayer to take on more burden, and so we are tightening our belt," Killian said.

The board is expected to officially adopt the budget at the June 17 meeting.

This article comes from our ABC13 partners at Community Impact Newspapers.