By LIBBY CLUETT
It's important for citizens to tune in to what the 83rd Legislature plans for the future of public schools and, according to Mineral Wells ISD Supt. Gail Haterius, it's “very important to the Mineral Wells community for school funding to be a state and legislative priority.”
At issue are adequacy and equity when addressing public school funding, according to Haterius.
Adequately funding school districts, like MWISD, is “the best way to build and grow our economy to a level that our community expects,” she noted. “In Mineral Wells we have many students who come from lower-income households. Many of these students require extra teaching, tutoring and resources to help them adequately learn the curriculum. That requires extra teachers, paraprofessionals, time and funding.”
Over 70 percent of MWISD students are considered low income and “need these extra services to succeed,” she added.
“At Mineral Wells ISD we are concerned about both equity and adequacy issues for public education. We don’t believe that a zip code should be the determining factor for the quality of education that is funded,” said Haterius. “I personally think that adequately funding schools is necessary in order to preserve our democracy.
“Thomas Jefferson counseled us 'To educate and inform the whole mass of the people … (as) They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.' I interpret his statements to mean that the populace of all of our towns and cities need to be educated in order to continue having a free society that knows enough to be the economic driving forces for our great country but also the watch dogs of society. We don’t need a leveled society in which only certain classes of society are well educated,” she added.
Yet, in Texas, public school districts have largely been held to the same “target revenue” funding system since 2006-07, Haterius said. This target revenue has not increased despite rising costs in fuel, utilities an staffing.
“In Texas, schools are funded in what is called a hold-harmless target-revenue system,” she explained. “Currently target revenue varies from $3,624 per student in Star ISD [in northern Central Texas], to $12,116 per student in Westbrook ISD in West Texas. Mineral Wells ISD currently receives $4,726 per student. That’s a $7,390-per-student variance in funding between school districts. If schools average 20 students per classroom, that would be a $147,800 variance per classroom. This inequity needs to be addressed in this legislative session.”
In addition to cuts many school districts had to make to adjust to the target-revenue system, in 2011 the 82nd Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public school funding, which meant districts like MWISD had to cut $650,000 from their general fund and technology fund. The district made these cuts mostly through attrition, instead of a reduction in personnel, and through other cost-saving measures. Since the 2006 Legislature passed House Bill 1 – authorizing the hold-harmless target-revenue system – MWISD has seen well over $2 million in lost revenue, according to CFO Paul Hearn.
“The adequacy issues will hopefully also be addressed,” Haterius said of the 83rd Legislature. “Since 2007-08 Mineral Wells ISD has cut $1.96 million and 83 positions from the budget. This has led to increased class size, less professional development for our teachers, less resources and a general tightening of all budgets.”
Mandates authorized by the Texas Legislature, like the four-by-four curriculum requirements – requiring high schools to offer four years of English-Language arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies – combined with increased testing and accountability and more extensive high school graduation requirements edge toward taking local control away from public school districts and elected officials and affect the entire community, Haterius said.
“At Mineral Wells we work hard to be efficient with all fiscal matters, but you reach a point that what you are required to do and the funding provided just don’t match,”said Haterius. “We’d ask everyone to pay attention to the legislature this session and contact your congressmen to let them know what our community needs.
“It is very important to fund the future of Texas and our public schools are places working daily to build that future, one student at a time,” added Haterius. “We have many dedicated professionals who love teaching. We need to always make sure that we have the teachers our students need.”
MWISD will host a community luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., featuring Dr. Bonnie Lesley, an educator, and Linda Etheridge, former Waco mayor, discussing legislative issues facing public schools, including school funding.
The luncheon and discussion take place at Holiday Hills Country Club. For information call Judy Brown at (940) 325-6404 or (940) 325-5103.
In addition, on Feb. 5, Lesley will speak on school funding at an informational meeting for MWISD employees. This meeting will take place at Mineral Wells High School at 4:15 p.m. Haterius said community members who cannot make the luncheon can attend the afternoon meeting.