Apparently, you need tax revenues to pay for needed services, and when the demand for those services outstrips the growth of the tax revenues, you either have to find a way to raise more revenue, or you have to cut the services that you want and need. You can’t finance everything you want on a low tax rate forever. Who knew?
Today, the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District — one of the fastest-growing districts in the nation — is at a crossroads. How long can it keep property taxes low and the quality of its education high?
Superintendent David Anthony has sounded the alarm, saying the suburban district is struggling to stay financially afloat and remain competitive for the best teachers.
To steady the district’s finances in coming years, Anthony proposed last month slashing the district’s optional homestead exemption — a special tax break that saves homeowners several hundred dollars a year but costs the district an estimated $45 million. The school board rejected Anthony’s idea after homeowners and state lawmakers protested.
The Cy-Fair school board agreed last month to eliminate 75 jobs and authorized more budget cuts. Anthony said the budget must be reduced by $14.2 million, but he hasn’t said how he’ll do it beyond cutting those 75 jobs.
“I am not naive enough to believe that these changes will be painless,” Anthony wrote in a June 26 memo to the community, “but the ultimate goal is to maintain our district’s great reputation, while ensuring that we are solvent and viable.”
Last year, the cash-strapped district cut roughly 450 positions, mostly through attrition; about 10 employees got pink slips, while others were reassigned to other jobs or new schools. The losses pushed up class sizes in middle and high schools and cut the number of counselors, librarians and teaching aides, said district spokeswoman Kelli Durham. Anthony declined interview requests last week.
Over the years, some Cy-Fair businesses have questioned the fairness of the tax break given to homeowners, said Darcy Mingoia, the former president of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce. But the upside of the exemption, she said, is it attracts more residents and, thus, more customers.
Mingoia, who co-chaired the political action committee supporting Cy-Fair’s 2007 bond referendum, said the future of the optional homestead exemption might hinge on whether student achievement plummets after the budget cuts.
“Will that,” she asked, “be the catalyst to have the school board look at it again?”
Depends. Do the residents in Cy-Fair care more about a few hundred bucks on their property tax bills, or the quality of the education their children receive? Seems like a pretty straightforward choice to me. I always hear that people move to the suburbs for the better schools. Now that Cy-Fair has some tough decisions to make, will they choose to maintain the schools that supposedly drew them there in the first place? Or will people leave it in favor of the next Cy-Fair, wherever that may be? Greg has more.