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Robin Hood robbin' BISD?

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Most of us have heard of the so-called Robin Hood law regarding Texas school finance. The basic idea is that some school districts are designated "wealthy" while others are deemed "poor." Wealthy schools must send some of their money in to the state, which then re-distributes the funds to the poor districts.

What may surprise many residents of Bandera County is that for the last four years, Bandera ISD has been deemed a "wealthy" school district.

Medina ISD has also fallen into that categorization.

During the August 13 meeting of BISD's board of trustees, district Business Manager Tish Grill advised the board that the district continues to meet the criteria under the Chapter 41 funding law to be classified as a wealthy district.

Furthermore, she advised, the district is nearing a funding standard that will mean a significant increase in the percentage BISD will have to send to the state coffers.

Board President Dr. Barbara Skipper blasted the Texas Legislature when she heard the bad news. "The Legislature hasn't changed those numbers for years. Eventually we'll all be wealthy districts and they [the state] won't have to pay for anything."

By "numbers," Skipper was referring to a complex formula that divides the weighted average daily attendance (WADA) into a district's property tax values to determine the amount of money that will be "recaptured," or sent to the state's school finance system for re-distribution. Once a district exceeds the state's baseline "equalized wealth level" (EWL), it becomes a kind of legislative Nottingham and has to send money in.

According to Grill, that formula is based on numbers related to the Austin ISD determined over 20 years ago.

20-year-old formula

Only the State Legislature can change that formula.

According to BISD Superintendent Regina Howell, legislation on reforming school finance has been limited. "Due to retirements and elections, we've lost a lot of expertise in the area of school finance in Austin," she said. The field is admittedly complex, and any new legislator interested in working on Texas school finance is "facing a huge learning curve."

Grill said the legislature is overdue to look at making changes in the formula. "The trend for property wealth per student has to grow with the Austin ISD," she said.

The State uses state land values to determine BISD's property values, not the values set by the local appraisal district, Grill explained. "That's why we hire an attorney every year to protest the state's values."

Despite a series of successful protests, BISD had to send approximately $70,000 of local taxpayer's dollars in to the state coffers last year, around $77,000 this year, and almost $80,000 in 2013 as recapture, Grill said.

On the bright side, Boerne ISD sends in $8.9 million per year.
The State baseline for the EWL currently stands at $319,500. BISD exceeds that value, with a Property Wealth Per Student (PWPS) of $431,651, yielding the $79,318 recapture due for 2013. When the district reaches a PWPS of $476,000, the percentage due will increase unless the next legislature, set to meet in 2013, makes some changes.

Open enrollment

In addition to protesting property values, the district also looks at other means to lower their recapture.

One of those methods is an open enrollment policy.

In 2012, BISD had 53 students enrolled who were not residents of the district. They attend Bandera Schools because their parents work in the district, or because they want to take advantage of the district's advanced placement (AP) and dual credit courses, or to participate in the district's wide offering of extra-curricular activities.

"Some people have asked why we give these students 'free' education," said Howell, "but if we charge them tuition, we can't claim ADA on those students." More students gives the district a lower recapture rate, she added. The open enrollment students generate more funds for the district by affecting recapture than the district would make by charging tuition.

With the next legislative session set to begin in early 2013, local taxpayers may want to start contacting their representatives now, urging them to look at changing the Robin Hood formula and updating the Chapter 41 school finance rules.

"Invite them to contact us, talk with us and take a tour," invited Howell. "We want them to see that we are not a wealthy school district."