Tomball ISD Chief Financial Officer Jim Ross can still smile, even as the district faces a budget shortfall due to state cuts in education funding. That’s because Ross, along with Superintendent John Neubauer and the Tomball ISD school board have prepared for this likelihood for the past several years.
“The fact that the board has been conservative and held surpluses has kept us in a better position than many districts,” Ross said.
While other districts, including Magnolia and others in the area, have had to cut back and layoff staff and teachers, Tomball has been able to hold steady and even hire additional staff, with the opening of new schools.
Ross said the district set aside $16 million through the 2014-2015 school year, to prepare for the added expenses of opening Tomball Memorial High School (TMHS) and the new Timber Creek Elementary (TCE) in The Woodlands, as well shortfalls from state funding sources. Ross called it fiscal stabilization.
“Some of it was a planned deficit and dollars were set aside for that,” Ross said.
The district plans to hire more than 100 additional staff members and give a nearly three percent pay raise for all employees. More than 40 of those additional employees will be new teachers, mainly at TMHS and TCE.
The district expects total expenditures for the upcoming school year to be around the $86 million mark, with local and state revenues of $81.5 million, leaving a $4.5 million shortfall.
The state shortfalls are due to a poorly-designed revenue source that the state legislature designed to buy down local tax rates, while forcing districts to lower those rates, officials said. While the state promised to replace those dollars, it was only a one time payment during the 2011-12 school year. Ross recommended saving that one-time payment, which the board did.
Before the new law lowered Tomball’s operating tax rate to $1.01, the district was operating on a rate of $1.44 for every $100 in assessed valuation. The housing crisis also hurt, as property values plummeted. To top it off state funding has dropped from a high of more than $28 million in 2009-10, to what Ross expects will be just under $19 million this school year.
Even with the savings and careful financial planning, Tomball could see an even bigger crunch next year, something Ross said they have been planning for, but could still be difficult given the lack of state money and the restriction on local funding sources placed on districts by the state.
Another thing helping the district was the sale of Tomball Regional Medical Center to a private company.
Ross said the sale allows the district to receive tax dollars for the entire Medical Complex area, something which allowed for an increase of more than 13 percent in the districts tax base.