Big picture

State’s school finance changing but nobody knows how it will end

You probably know that Texas schools are heading into a most uncertain time as the legislature deals with a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.

It’s important to keep in mind there’s both a small (local) picture and a big (statewide) picture and while they are related they aren’t the same thing.

So far as the small picture goes, Rockdale ISD is in a position many districts would envy. Prudent, forward-looking administration for decades has enabled the district to build a sizeable fund balance on which it can rely.

At least it will buy some time for Rockdale ISD as it waits to see what the big picture will look like.

Some radically different approaches are already being considered on the state level. Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan) has introduced a bill to consolidate Texas’ 1,030 school districts into 254, one per county.

That’s been proposed before but the idea is getting a little traction this time around. Ironically, the first question that’s always asked seems to be “will we still get to have our big sports rivalries?”

Answer, yes. Austin LBJ and Austin Reagan are in the same school district and they seem to have no trouble playing each other.

A better question might be “what happens to the smaller, rural schools, and their communities?”

Look at the county to our west. You figure Round Rock and Hutto will be okay if there’s a Williamson County District. But what about Granger? Jarrell? Florence?

State Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) has even talked about wiping out the current finance system entirely and instituting a statewide property tax of one dollar to fund schools. Districts would then be allowed to enact a local “enrichment tax” of up to 20 cents.

That would require a (voter-approved) state constitutional amendment. It would mean more loss of local control.

With those, and other, kinds of big picture options being considered, the small picture may not mean that much after all.—M.B.

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2011-01-27 digital edition

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