Hi Friend,
It’s September! It’s hard to believe how fast the year is flying by. By now, if you have kids, they are likely in school and getting settled into the school routines. Jacob has embraced the fresh start he gets to have in high school and is playing well in football while excelling in his classes. Calob is really enjoying the start of fifth grade with his friends and doing well in Jiu Jitsu. He especially enjoyed seeing himself in the news sitting behind Governor Abbott during his trip to Fort Bend County. That was an exciting day to introduce the Governor, and knock on doors in Long Meadow Farms together.
During the Governor’s time in Fort Bend, he spent quite a bit of it talking about property taxes. That’s because it’s a top concern for constituents in House District 26, and has been for years. We’re sticking to property taxes again for this briefing because there have been a few new developments since the last time we wrote about the topic. The Texas legislature has continued to take steps to reign in and put more control of your property taxes in your hands, including passing a law to reduce property taxes by $5 billion. However, property taxes are local taxes set by your school district, county, and municipalities to pay for maintenance and operation costs and debt service costs on bonds to build capital improvements. These taxing districts ultimately determine how much you will pay in property taxes by choosing the tax rate for their constituents.  

Postings for tax rate hearings are required by law so that you can participate, and if tax revenues are raised above a certain threshold, you get to vote on whether to allow the tax increase. Many taxing entities have now voted on their budgets and tax rates. You can view the taxing entities and tax rate information here

Remember, the taxable value of your home is only one part of the equation, and should reflect actual market value in your area. The tax rate is the part of the equation you elect representatives to set to achieve tax revenue for a budget. A no-new-revenue tax rate would keep your tax bill similar to prior years. A tax revenue increase that stays under voter-approval tax rate is the most a taxing entity can raise your taxes without voter approval. 

I came out very aggressively against the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees’ decision to increase their tax rate from the no-new-revenue rate of 1.12, to 1.21, which is well above the 1.15 voter-approval tax rate. This means that you as a voter, will get to decide this November if you want to increase the tax rate: which will likely result in a higher property tax bill. 

As Senator Bettencourt shares in his press release, “local school boards have scheduled tax ratification elections (TREs) that, if passed by the voters, will wipeout state mandated maintenance and operation (M&O) property tax relief in their districts.” It continues; “Ft. Bend ISD's M&O compression is .06 pennies, and they are reducing their debt rate by .02 pennies. They could have approved a .04 penny debt rate reduction but only did half that amount. However, they are asking voters to approve a .0731 penny TRE. If the Ft. Bend ISD TRE is approved by voters, the owner of an average $301k home will pay $220.03 more in school taxes.” Full press release here.
So, why is Fort Bend ISD asking for this tax increase to be approved? While the board of trustees votes on the budget and the tax rate, they admit they are following what the administration recommended to them to do. So, we asked the administration to explain the $47 million dollar deficit in the budget the board approved. This is cut and paste from their explanation:
“There are many factors contributing to the deficit:
  • Salary increases: teachers and staff were not given a raise in 2019-20.  In 2020-21, a raise of 6% for teachers and 4% for other staff was included in the budget for that year.  That budget was approved with a deficit of $19M.  The deficit was offset by fund balance and ESSER (these are both non-recurring sources).  The total value of that raise was $32M.
  • Over $40M of programs were implemented during the past 5 years.  These are enrichment programs that most other districts do not have.  Other districts that have these programs have gone to their taxpayers with requests for recurring revenue through a TRE.  FBISD has not had to ask for an adjustment in the tax rate up until now because there was enough enrollment growth to cover those expenses.  
  • FBISD, like all other school districts is committed to its mission of service all students, this includes students with special needs.  Our percentage of students in special education has risen rapidly from 6.4% in 2015-16 to 12% this year.  The State does pay districts more for students with special needs, but the allocation does not fully cover the additional costs to educate these students.  The average gap between state revenue for a special education student, and the cost for special education students is $4100 per student.
  • For years, the FBISD philosophy has been to have “neighborhood schools”.  The capacity in these schools have ranged from 500 to 800 students.  The lower capacity by itself is not necessarily the problem.  The fact that FBISD has many campuses that are underutilized does increase overall costs per student.  The fixed costs associated with one elementary school (principal, counselor, nurse, assistant principal, but not including teachers), is approximately $1.5M.  Two large elementary campuses with enrollment of 1,050 each costs $3M to maintain.  Three smaller elementary campuses with enrollment of 700 each costs $4.5M to maintain. We are committed to addressing this through future consolidation and rebuilds having higher student enrollment capacity, but this will take time and cannot be an immediate fix.
  • Inflation is a key factor.  Like all families and businesses, FBISD is paying more for fuel, food, supplies, etc.  District school buses drive over 20,000 miles per day (roughly the equivalent of circumnavigating Earth), so the increase in fuel cost is very real. The bigger impact of inflation has been on the cost of labor and what school districts need to pay staff to keep them.  There is a national labor shortage.  Higher salaries are needed to recruit and retain teachers and support staff.  $14M of the adopted budget deficit is from the raises given to staff for 2022-23.  Given the current budget deficit, this is not something the district could afford.  However, because teachers and staff are needed to fulfill the mission of the district, the raise was something we could not afford to not do.   
  • The drop in student enrollment is no-longer contributing to the current deficit, but it was a big part of the deficit during the pandemic. Even though there were fewer students, the district maintained all campus staff during the pandemic.  The state covered the losses in attendance and enrollment the first year of the pandemic; however, the state did not cover the losses from enrollment in the second year. Those losses impacted the fund balance and now there is not as much fund balance to address the current deficit.”
I am not endorsing this explanation for the property tax increase, and some of it raises more questions, but I won’t go through and break this down in this briefing. If you have questions about this explanation, you should direct your questions to your elected board of trustees who voted for this budget deficit. In addition to covering the $47 million dollar deficit, two more pennies worth of tax increases would go to a partial down payment on law enforcement officers in every elementary school sometime in the future, pay raises for teachers, auxiliary staff and paraprofessionals. 
I was happy to join law enforcement from across the county, LCISD and Stafford MUSD superintendents, and school boards in a press conference to share the coordinated efforts by patrolling officers to spend additional hours at all our elementary schools across the county to ensure they are safe and secure. 

I also want our teachers to earn more. Fortunately, the State of Texas created the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) in the Texas Legislature as part of House Bill 3 to provide a realistic pathway for top teachers to earn six-figure salaries and to help attract and retain highly effective teachers, particularly at traditionally hard-to-staff schools. 

At the end of the day, I’m not telling voters to vote against the Tax Ratification Election. This is ultimately up to voters in Fort Bend ISD to decide. If this issue of property taxes continuing to increase without end is an issue for you, you have the option to vote against the increase. If you feel the explanations are worth paying more in property taxes, you are able to vote for it. 

As a Fort Bend ISD tax payer with children attending Fort Bend ISD schools, and as a state representative representing part of Fort Bend ISD, I am rooting for the success of Fort Bend ISD. I am rooting for the children in those schools, the parents who send their children to these schools, for the teachers that teach those children and the taxpayers that fund those schools. Fort Bend ISD is at a place where it will have to make tough decisions in the coming years to get on sound fiscal footing and I am praying for their success. 
Let us know your thoughts
Our goal is to communicate effectively, with authenticity and simplicity, so that Texans know what and why things are happening, and how to make a difference in their community. We want to empower you with the right information to make things better for yourself, your family, and your neighbors. Thank you for taking steps to be informed and share good information with others. 
Jacey Jetton
State Representative
Texas House District 26

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