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Conroe

Many more school districts are feeling the pinch

Not just HISD. Not by a long shot.

For eight-straight years, Cypress-Fairbanks and Conroe ISDs earned the Texas Smart Schools Award, bestowed on school districts with prudent financial practices and high academic achievement.

Now, Cypress-Fairbanks faces a $50 million deficit next school year, and Conroe is projected to face its first deficit in nearly a decade in the next two to four years.

They are not alone.

As the Texas Legislature studies potential changes to the state’s school funding mechanisms, the majority of large Houston-area school districts are facing budget shortfalls they say stem from a lack of state aid. Of the 10 largest Houston-area school districts, all but three approved budgets last summer that included deficits of more than $1 million, according to a Chronicle review. At least nine say they may have to dip into reserve funds within the next three to five years if revenues do not increase.

For some, it is more dire. If nothing changes at the state or local level, district officials say Spring Branch ISD in west Houston will be financially insolvent in three years. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will use up all its reserve funds in four or five years. Pasadena ISD only avoided a $20 million shortfall for the next school year by passing a tax hike referendum, and multiple districts are considering similar measures to keep their schools afloat.

That pain is felt in large and small districts across the state. North East ISD in San Antonio expects to cut $12 million from its budget next year, likely leading to teacher layoffs, according to the San Antonio Express-News. By 2020, budget documents in Ysleta ISD near El Paso show the district likely will draw down its reserve funds by $12 million. Friendswood ISD, which educates roughly 6,000 students in a sliver of southeast Greater Houston, is facing a $1.9 million budget shortfall next year.

“If we’ve been one of the most efficient districts in the state, and we’re facing this crisis, imagine what other districts are dealing with,” Cy-Fair ISD Chief Financial Officer Stuart Snow said.

[…]

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who sits on the Commission of Public Education Funding, said districts should expand their revenue streams to include sources other than local property taxes and the state. He pointed to Dallas ISD, which pulls in about $10 million annually from philanthropy. United Airlines also staffed one of DISD’s schools with 25 full-time employees, a partnership Bettencourt said should inspire districts elsewhere.

“It’s not going to be one-size fits all — there are many, many ways to do it right,” Bettencourt said. “At end of the day, we want the education system to get students the best educations they can get for best deals taxpayers can support. But we need to look for all the ways we can do it right.”

First of all, to Paul Bettencourt: You cannot be serious. Philanthropy? Are you kidding me? Dallas ISD’s 2017-2018 general revenue expenditures were over $1.4 billion. That $10 million represents 0.7% of the total. You gonna suggest everyone search their couch cushions, too? Oh, and I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember when two of the biggest philanthropic entities in Houston were Enron and Continental Airlines. Good thing HISD didn’t make itself dependent on them, you know?

This is entirely the Legislature’s responsibility. We are here because they refuse to adequately fund schools, and because they use the increases in property valuations to fund the rest of the budget, while blaming local officials for their shortfalls and tax hikes. As with everything else in this state, nothing will change until the people we elect change. If you live in one of these districts, don’t take your frustrations out on your school board trustees. Take it out on the State Reps and State Senators who skimp on school finance, and the Governor and Lt. Governor who push them to keep doing it.

Here comes Conroe

Not so little anymore.

This isn’t the first time Conroe, population 82,286, has recorded notable growth.

In 2015, it was one of the 13 fastest-growing cities by percentage, ranking sixth below other Texas cities like San Marcos, Georgetown and Frisco. The next year, according to Census numbers released Thursday, Conroe zoomed to the top spot and became the headline on news stories across the country.

Forty miles north of downtown Houston, Conroe is the county seat of one of the fastest growing counties in Texas. Montgomery County netted more than 19,700 residents between July 2015 and July 2016, as Houston-area suburbs continued to expand.

In fact, Texas had four of the five fastest-growing large cities in the U.S., each near a major city. Following Conroe were the Dallas suburbs of Frisco and McKinney, which grew by 6.2 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. Georgetown, an Austin suburb, was the fifth-fastest growing city with a population increase of 5.5 percent.

Officials in the Texas cities and the state’s demographer attribute the growth to various factors, including the state’s robust jobs market and the cities’ diversified economies, lower costs of living and skilled workforces that earn higher wages.

“A lot of times when people think of Texas, they think about cowboys and roping cows. But really we have … cutting edge manufacturing, technology and finance, and certainly all of the oil extraction activity as well,” Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said.

For Conroe Mayor Toby Powell, a self-described “ol’ boy” who has lived in the city all his 76 years, the growth is no surprise.

In fact, Powell said, Conroe officials already had been planning for increased demand for city services and infrastructure. A new police station has just opened, and a new fire station is under construction. The city also has purchased 75 acres of land to build a second sewer plant.

Traffic congestion already can be seen just a few minutes away from its town square lined by old-fashioned street lamps and dotted with benches extolling the city’s history. Along Highway 105, which runs east-west through Conroe, shopping centers are home to chain stores and restaurants like Target, Home Depot, Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill, and queues of cars back up at lights and turn lanes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have joked about Conroe trying to annex The Woodlands back in the day. The former-small-town-turned-booming-suburb narrative isn’t new, and like so many other places – Katy, Pearland, Spring, etc etc etc – two facts remain: The original small town and the booming suburb that supplants it are two very different places, and the secret ingredient in all of them is an abundance of cheap, undeveloped land on which to build. That was Houston’s secret once upon a time, too. I don’t have any large point to make here, but I will note that just as the politics in places like Katy and Pearland have started to change as their populations have increased and diversified, so too will this happen in Conroe. It would be nice to have a bit of Democratic infrastructure in place for when that happens.

More on MUDs

The Chron covers this topic.

A few months ago, a cabinet maker and his wife were recruited to move into a manufactured home parked on a dirt road that was plowed into the woods on the west side of Conroe in Montgomery County.

Daniel and Deborah Spiecher are now the only residents of a newly created municipal utility district, or MUD, carved from 82 acres of land there. They are also the only ones eligible to vote Tuesday on $500 million in proposed bonds to develop that tract.

In fact, they are among just seven voters who will decide the fate this week of $1.07 billion in bonds for roads, water, sewer and recreational facilities in three such districts that were recently formed in this fast-growing county north of Houston. The debt will be repaid with taxes imposed on future residents and businesses. While some believe the MUDs provide a means to bring about high-end development in an orderly way, critics say they are out of control, with developers manipulating the democratic process to essentially take on the roles of cities and borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to make public improvements.

Montgomery County resident Adrian Heath decries the lack of transparency and citizen input into what critics call “rent-a-voter” MUD elections. Heath notes that the billion-dollar MUD proposals make the contentious, countywide election over a $280 million road bond package look like “kid stuff.”

Yet an attorney representing one of the developers for the three MUDs refers to these initial seven voters as “urban pioneers.”

“They move onto the land and help establish new communities, paving the way for the future homeowners,” said Angela Lutz, the attorney for Stoecker Corp., which plans to develop land covered by a separate MUD on Conroe’s west side and also north of The Woodlands. She stressed these elections are completely legal, as well as being “typical and ordinary” and the way MUDs have operated for decades.

[…]

Without MUDs, much of Harris County and The Woodlands would not exist today, he said. In order for MUDs to be confirmed in an election as state law requires, developers have to move residents onto their property to vote, Melder said.

“While the method may seem unusual, it has led to hundreds of thousands of high-quality and affordable homes in the Houston area,” said Lutz, the attorney for Stoecker.

However, others, such as University of Connecticut School of Law professor Sara Bronin, question the “lack of formal democratic process” in these MUD elections, utilizing a small voter pool that is “handpicked by the developer.”

Bronin, who wrote an article for the Fordham Law Review on Texas’ MUDs, notes how MUDs were originally designed only as a vehicle for supplying water to unincorporated areas. Since then, as the number of MUDs has proliferated, their power also has grown, she said.

“The lines are so blurred that you can’t tell much difference between a MUD and what a city can do,” she said.

See here for recent coverage from Your Houston News. The defenders of these MUDs (and their cousin, road utility districts or RUDs) make some good points, but the whole thing feels like magic to me – just put a few people in trailers on some undeveloped rural land, and voila! instant access to hundreds of millions of dollars in credit for your construction dreams – not to mention completely non-transparent. I mean, school bond issues have their share of problems, but at the end of the day every penny gets accounted for. Does anyone believe there isn’t a little grease built in to this process? Good luck finding it. I’d also guess that the sudden appearance of these subdivisions in what used to be pastures and piney woods contributes more than a little to Montgomery County’s inability to keep up with its own infrastructure needs, but that’s their problem. I get that this is legal, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, and it doesn’t mean that the original intent of these districts hasn’t been swept aside. Chalk this up as another reason why I prefer city living. We may have our own problems, but I at least have some say in how things are done.

When low turnout is the goal

You really have to admire the sheer brazenness of this.

Montgomery County Municipal Utility District No. 142 is yet another special-purpose district this election cycle using what appears to be a service that hires voters to pass MUD elections in areas without existing voters.

MUD No. 142 will be the site of The Woods of Conroe, a 92-acre subdivision west of Conroe that will include about 400 residential lots, according to previous Courier articles.

According to voter registration records, two voters list their residence at 5283 Old Highway 105 W. in Conroe, which happens to also be the site of early voting for MUD 142. The MUD 142 election is being held separate from the Montgomery County joint elections and therefore is not on the sample ballot provided by Montgomery County Elections Central.

The two voters in MUD 142 also happen to list their mailing addresses at 20615 Marilyn Lane in Spring, which is the home site of Stingray Services. According to the Stingray Services website, the company specializes in providing turn-key voter trailer installation services, and election services,” their website “About Us” says. “We have completed over 70 trailer installations in Texas over the last 10 years, and have supported nearly 100 elections. We locate residents, perform landlord services, support residents in changing their license and voter registration, and assist with the district election. We have worked with a host of major developers and engineers including Lennar, Toll Brothers, Friendswood, Land Tejas, Taylor Morrison, Pate Engineers, Brown & Gay … to name just a few.”

Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing, and see here for more on one of the other MUDs mentioned in the story. I know that all the “concern” about “voter fraud” and “election integrity” in the Legislature is so much partisan grandstanding and security theater, but you’d still think that something as egregious as this might attract a little bit of attention. Instead, the only people to get in trouble are the ones who tried to expose the sham. But hey, at least these MUD voters have to show photo ID when they vote, right? KTRK has more.

Encroaching on Sam Houston National Forest

The march of development continues apace.

All over the Texas Piney Woods, along farm-to-market roads and state highways, multicolored signs hawk real estate – small plots of paradise among the tall trees. The billboards offer “gated acreage” and “room to breathe,” promoting rural charm not far from urban amenities.

But in the process of subdividing and selling the woods, fast-growing Houston has found its way into once-remote public lands. The Sam Houston National Forest, 60 miles north of downtown, is suddenly buckled up to the big city, with thousands of new houses sprouting around it and bringing a new set of challenges for forest rangers.

There are more people living here, more people coming for a visit. And more people mean more traffic on two-lane roadways, more off-road vehicles going their own way, more fallen trees on fence lines, more trash and more crime. Just in the last few years, authorities have found three farms growing marijuana for Mexican cartels.

“There are now six lanes to our doorstep,” district ranger Warren Oja said of the recently widened Interstate 45, which cuts through the forest. “More people are finding the Sam Houston (National Forest) who didn’t know it was here before.”

Not that there is anything wrong with people wanting to camp and hike and fish in the expansive forest, which covers 163,000 acres in Montgomery, Walker and San Jacinto counties, and Oja is making plans to create more recreational opportunities.

No, Oja said, what’s troubling about the forest’s growing popularity is the need to do more with less, making its preservation more difficult than ever before. With budget cuts across the U.S. Forest Service, his staff has gone from 40 people in 2010 to 23 now, including one technician to maintain campground facilities and 240 miles of trails.

[…]

Brandt Mannchen, a Houston resident who has volunteered countless hours of labor for the Sam Houston forest, said the federal agency that oversees the area needs to be better funded, with money either for more staff or to buy additional property to fill in the holes in the forest to limit urban encroachment. The forest, for example, didn’t receive additional funding in 2011, when the driest year in Texas history damaged thousands of trees. Some drought-related debris plugged culverts during May’s storms, causing unpaved service roads to wash away.

“The money we are talking about is peanuts,” Mannchen said. “We are being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

The state’s four national forests and two national grasslands are operating on a $15 million budget, down from $36 million in 2008. Forests managers have supplemented their appropriations through timber sales, which totaled $1.3 million last year. And Oja said volunteers have provided about $400,000 in labor since October at the Sam Houston forest.

Mannchen said it isn’t right that the forest’s trails are open only because of the work of volunteers. The Sam Houston Trails Association, for one, is maintaining trails and constructing new ones through grants.

The story doesn’t examine the reasons for the budget cuts, but if I had to guess I’d say they’re the result of sequestration, which as it happens Congressional Democrats are trying to kill off. That would be good news for Sam Houston National Forest and the people who use it, not that anyone who lives nearby is likely to understand that. One way or the other, I hope the Forest Service can get what it needs. The Sam Houston National Forest is worth taking care of.

Houston keeps on growing

Sounds good to me.

Among large American cities, only New York added more people than Houston in the year ending July 1, 2012, according to new census figures released Thursday. In addition, the Census Bureau reported, eight of the 15 fastest-growing large cities – those with more than 50,000 residents – were in Texas, including Conroe in the Houston area.

The report covered cities and towns, not broader metropolitan areas.

Margaret Drain, a senior researcher at Houston Community College, said the strong growth in Houston and other Texas cities was not surprising.

“I think this is going to be a nice incline kind of ride,” Drain said.

From July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, Houston added 34,625 residents to rise to a population of 2,160,821. This represented a 1.6 percent population increase for the year, compared with New York’s 0.8 percent growth.

Houston’s growth rate was exceeded by those of other major cities in Texas. Austin grew by 3 percent and jumped two spots to become the nation’s 11th-largest city; Houston remained in fourth place behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Dallas and San Antonio also grew by higher percentages than Houston.

[…]

In the Houston area, Conroe was the fastest-growing metro, increasing by 4 percent to 61,533 people. It was the 10th-fastest growing city in the country among those above 50,000 population.

See the Census press release and tables here. I’m glad to see this talk about cities and not just metro areas, though it does that as well. Note that by these figures we were comfortably above 2.1 million people as of 2011, so despite the grumbling in some corners it was clearly the right thing for us to expand and redistrict City Council in 2009 rather than wait any longer. Note also the difference between absolute growth and growth rate. Conroe’s four percent growth, if that’s an exact figure, represents an increase of 2,367 people, far less than Houston’s total but much larger as a percentage since they started with so much smaller a population. Austin Contrarian has more.

Conroe is growing up

Good for them.

Conroe native Jay Ross Martin says he never imagined his rural hometown in the piney woods developing bustling retail centers, a thriving housing market and a population that’s more than doubled in the past 20 years.

The change has catapulted Conroe, the county seat of Montgomery County, into a “new world,” says Martin, a former city councilman.

Increasingly, that new world is more like the city than the country.

This year the U.S. Census Bureau made it official by designating an area surrounding Conroe and The Woodlands as a “large urbanized transit area.” The designation, based on its population exceeding 200,000, makes the area eligible for federal transportation dollars.

Thirty-six new large urbanized areas were added to the Census Bureau list this year. Conroe-The Woodlands was the only new designation in the Houston region.

The population within the area, which extends north to Willis and south to Spring in unincorporated Montgomery County along the Interstate 45 corridor, increased to 240,000 in 2010, nearly triple the 1990 level.

“It’s an indication of large growth between The Woodlands and Conroe,” said Bruce Tough, president of The Woodlands Township, the governing body of The Woodlands. With the new Exxon Mobil campus planned just south of The Woodlands, he added, “we’re going to see a lot of energy and manufacturing companies coming to Montgomery County contributing to unprecedented growth. People better put on their seat belt.”

[…]

Traffic congestion is the most serious downside of growth, residents said.

More people now commute to work into The Woodlands than out of it, community leaders said. Travel time on major roads, such as Woodlands Parkway and Research Forest, has increased dramatically.

“I avoid going to the mall like the plague,” said Woodlands resident Tom Sadlowski. “It’s so crowded.”

Obligatory Yogi Berra Quote: “No one goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

I think the issue of traffic congestion for these fast-growing areas is bigger than its boosters would like to admit, and merits more attention than these three little paragraphs at the end of an otherwise hagiographic story. Suburban development, with its one-way-in-and-out-of-subdivisions design and complete dependence on freeway access, is a recipe for congestion. There’s no easy way to deal with it, either – adding lanes only does you so much good if everyone is headed for the same on-ramp. I hope now that the Conroe/Woodlands large urbanized transit area is eligible for federal transportation dollars that they will give some thought to regional transportation solutions – buses, and if they’re really smart, commuter rail. That Houston-Galveston rail line that’s been in the works forever would be even more valuable as a Conroe-Galveston rail line. If they’re not thinking about it now, I guarantee they’ll regret it later.

Population growth in the Houston suburbs

The Chron’s Newswatch blog had a post the other day showing population changes in different ethnic groups for a number of Houston suburbs between 2000 and 2010. It was done as a chart, and while it was a very nice chart, I’m a numbers guy, not a pictures guy. So I translated it all into something that made sense to me, and here it is.

Bellaire Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 13,030 12,237 -6.1% Latino 1,220 1,601 31.2% Black 125 270 116.0% Asian 985 2,360 139.6% Other 282 388 37.6% Overall 15,642 16,855 7.8% Cinco Ranch Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 9,326 12,536 34.4% Latino 649 2,339 260.4% Black 313 640 104.5% Asian 739 2,339 216.5% Other 168 420 150.0% Overall 11,196 18,274 63.2% Conroe Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 20,062 27,148 35.3% Latino 12,000 21,640 80.3% Black 4,012 5,508 37.3% Asian 331 956 188.9% Other 405 956 136.0% Overall 36,811 56,207 52.7% Katy Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 8,266 8,842 7.0% Latino 2,791 4,090 46.5% Black 530 705 33.0% Asian 59 212 259.3% Other 177 254 43.5% Overall 11,775 14,102 19.8% League City Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 34,810 56,993 63.7% Latino 6,135 14,457 135.6% Black 2,272 5,766 153.8% Asian 1,409 4,429 214.3% Other 818 1,922 135.0% Overall 45,444 83,568 83.9% Pasadena Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 66,870 48,737 -27.1% Latino 68,287 92,705 35.8% Black 1,983 2,832 42.8% Asian 2,550 3,130 22.7% Other 1,983 1,639 -17.3% Overall 141,674 149,043 5.2% Pearland Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 27,628 44,531 61.2% Latino 6,098 18,707 206.8% Black 1,957 14,692 650.7% Asian 1,355 11,224 729.8% Other 602 2,099 248.7% Overall 37,640 91,252 142.4% Spring Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 26,779 25,466 -4.9% Latino 5,822 15,421 164.9% Black 2,511 10,262 308.7% Asian 509 1,629 220.0% Other 764 1,520 99.0% Overall 36,385 54,298 49.2% Sugar Land Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 38,443 34,995 -9.0% Latino 5,003 8,276 65.4% Black 3,230 5,754 78.1% Asian 15,009 27,665 84.3% Other 1,583 2,128 34.4% Overall 63,328 78,817 24.5% The Woodlands Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 48,693 73,670 51.3% Latino 3,673 11,449 211.7% Black 946 2,159 128.2% Asian 1,558 4,505 189.2% Other 779 2,065 165.1% Overall 55,649 93,847 68.6%

Please note that the individual totals may not sum up exactly because of rounding. Charts are nice, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate the huge scope of some of these changes without seeing numbers. Hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me.

They’re brewing up in Conroe

I’m glad to hear that there’s another microbrewery in the area, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Southern Star beer the next time I’m someplace that might have a broad enough selection to include it. One item to note:

[Co-founder Dave] Fougeron also would like to see small breweries become local gathering spots. He and [Brian] Hutchins open their business to the public on Saturdays, offering free tours and handing out samples while Jeff Smith and Steve Sumner of the Outlaw Kookers keep the barbecue pits stoked outside. Fougeron said the tours create “a genuine feeling of community.”

“There should be thousands of breweries in America,” he said. “We’re Americans. We drink beer.”

Brock Wagner, the head of Saint Arnold, agreed that his former employee is both passionate and knowledgeable about his favorite subject. Also, he might be in business at just the right time.

Southern Star is only the second craft brewery in the Houston area, and it’s one of just a handful statewide. Yet there is something of a building boom going on, particularly in the Austin area, where four already are open and several others are at least in the planning stages.

Wagner, who runs the oldest and largest craft brewery in the state, sees plenty of room for growth. In Houston, he said, craft beer makes up less than 3 percent of sales.

“Long term,” he said, “I think we should all be working toward making craft beer about 10 percent of the market down here. That will take us all working together.”

Hopefully, one thing they’ll all be working together on is to improve the state of beer in Texas by trying once again to pass a bill that would allow microbreweries to sell their beer on premises. They made some progress in a second attempt at it in 2009 but ran into the usual resistance from the beer distributors’ lobby. Having one more microbrewer in Texas won’t make that much difference, but every little bit helps.

No texting while driving in Conroe

Conroe is set to join the parade of cities banning texting while driving.

The ordinance is expected to be introduced at the March 25 meeting and could take effect in April. Those in violations of the proposed law would face fines of up to $500.

The proposed ordinance would cover any text-based communication, such as electronic mail, a text message, instant message or Internet browsing while the vehicle is in operation. The ordinance would also cover the use of such devices when the vehicle is stopped or standing in a roadway in the city.

Under the proposal, the ordinance would allow a defense for phone calls as well as the use of global positioning systems or navigation systems.

Defenses also can be used for summoning emergency assistance for police, fire or medical issues, for reporting accidents or serious traffic hazards or while the car is standing in legal parking areas at the side of the road.

“It’s pretty self explanatory,” said Councilwoman Marsha Porter. “It’s pretty hard to drive and text unless you are driving with your knees.”

Trust me on this: It’s very possible to text one-handed. Not that I would ever do such a thing while driving, of course. In any event, add another data point to the total. How many such bans do you think will have been enacted by the time the Lege convenes next January?

Ditching spelling tests

I’m okay with this.

Causing confusion among parents, a growing number of schools are ditching tradition for a different method of teaching spelling that focuses less on memorization and more on understanding why and how words are constructed.

Some districts, including Clear Creek and Conroe, have gone as far as encouraging teachers to scrap the typical spelling test — no longer should students get a list of words on Monday and be quizzed on them on Friday. Instead, students should be graded on how well they spell in their writing and whether they stumble on certain words when reading aloud.

The idea is to teach today’s students, who are most at ease abbreviating words in text messages, that spelling still matters — not just for a good grade on a test.

I like that approach, even if the Chron’s editorial board doesn’t. I’ve never cared for rote memorization as a teaching tool. I’d much rather see the curriculum emphasize vocabulary and writing skills, for which spelling can still be used as a point of evaluation. I hope HISD watches this experiment closely, and gives consideration to adopting the practice.

UPDATE: If this were the template for teaching spelling, I’d have no objections.

School districts feeling the crunch

The state’s budget problems, which are caused to some degree by the economic slowdown, aren’t just problems for the state. They’re local problems as well, and the entities that have been hardest hit are those that had been given short shrift by the state long before the economy went into a nose dive. I’m referring to school districts, which are feeling all kinds of pain right now, and which have even bleaker short term forecasts.

[B]y far, school districts have reported taking a much harder hit from the economic downturn than have municipalities. For instance, Cy-Fair is predicting a $10 million shortfall in its 2010-11 budget. School authorities say their fiscal problems are exacerbated by funding limits and state regulations.

“Every district has a complaint on the way their funding is figured. It all boils down to that we’re not getting enough from the state,” said Robert Robertson, spokesman for Klein ISD.

Texas schools get their income from allotments paid by the state for each student as well as property taxes that the district levies.

Despite increasing expenses, state funding has been frozen at the level that districts received three years ago — with the only exception being a small shot of stimulus money that was dedicated mostly to teacher raises and programs to help disadvantaged students.

At the same time, lawmakers have capped the property tax rate that districts can levy to cover their operating expenses at $1.04 per $100 valuation. It can be raised by an additional 13 cents, but only if approved by voters in a special tax election.

You know, I’m thinking there’s an opportunity for a Democratic candidate for Governor to win some votes in these suburban, Republican-leaning parts of the state by promising to work hard to find real solutions to these problems. Some of that may include saying words or phrases that might be considered no-nos in Texas elections, and that’s a scary thing to do. But it should be clear to most folks what kind of path we’re on right now, and it should be clear to most folks that without a change in the Governor’s mansion, that path isn’t going to change, either. Certainly, unless someone makes the case for doing things differently, we’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing.