State Legislators must pay attention to area's fast-growing school districts

May 12, 2016

Data from the U.S. Census puts three Texas cities – Austin, Houston and San Antonio – in the top five fastest growing cities in the U.S. And, Fort Worth and Dallas aren’t far behind, ranking among the top ten.

With all of this success come substantial and significant challenges. There’s the familiar refrain about the need for Texas to address the public’s demands for more roads, to meet increasing water needs and to support other critical infrastructure as the population here explodes.

How we meet the needs of roughly 80,000 new public school students each year joins that chorus of concerns. 

Northside ISD, the state’s fourth-largest school district, is faced with opening more than 800 new classrooms over the next decade. One new high school opens next year while another is in the planning stages. A planned school bond in 2018 would possibly build eight more schools. Many of NISD’s much-needed classrooms may not be ready without significant state support.

Located in the nation’s seventh-fastest growing county, Comal ISD (current enrollment 21,160) is experiencing some of the area’s fastest growth. But property values are rising even faster, meaning that by 2018 the district will have sent more than $24 million to the state for distribution to districts with little or no growth. If kept locally, these funds could support the opening of two new middle schools that same year, or pay for nearly a half million dollars in portables to accommodate enrollment growth.

 At Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, over 2,000 students have been added in four years, with demographic projections forecasting an additional 5,600 over the next ten school years. Eleven campuses have a current enrollment above their respective functional capacity. Its’ biggest challenge may be the lack of commercial revenue streams, meaning tax revenues are generated mostly from residential tax base. This creates a much lower wealth-per-student allotment for SCUCISD than any of the neighboring school districts and among the lowest in the region.

In neighboring Boerne ISD (current enrollment 7,940), Superintendent David Stelmazewski is making plans to accommodate a projected enrollment growth of more than 4,400 students over the next 10 years.  Despite moving sixth grade to the district’s middle school campuses this fall, several of Boerne’s elementary campuses are at or near capacity.  On May 7, taxpayers approved a $175 million bond to fund three new schools and classroom expansions at existing campuses.

Yet, a majority of these fast-growth districts receive little facilities funding from the state to help keep pace with the school buildings needed to educate the influx of Texas public school students.

Generally speaking, state debt is low, while local debt burdens continue to increase. But the reality is much of the financial burden to keep pace with increasing demand for infrastructure and state services—including public education—is simply shifted to local taxpayers. 

All four of the aforementioned school districts are at or near the threshold of local tax rate limitations meaning their budgetary needs are reliant on the continued tax appraisal growth coupled with student growth.                                             

Unfortunately, the state does not account for growth rate in their facilities funding models, so the burden falls to local taxpayers to build new schools and carry the debt. We need state funding to reflect the realities inherent in a state with such tremendous population growth. And, we need the state to allow for greater flexibility in how local communities manage and meet the demands of being a fast-growth school district.

An investment in fast-growth districts is an essential investment in our children in Texas. It’s also a reflection of our state’s commitment to stay economically vibrant and to make our state a place where businesses flock and families can grow and prosper.

submitted by

David Stelmazewski, Superintendent, Boerne ISD
Andrew Kim, Superintendent, Comal ISD
Brian Woods, Superintendent, Northside ISD
Greg Gibson, Superintendent, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD