Highland Park ISD projects it will have an operating budget of $60 million after $83.8 million in property tax revenue is recaptured by the state this fiscal year.
With instructional costs projected at $36 million, there’s not a lot of revenue left over to update technology, purchase copier leases, and keep the district running at the level the community has come to expect.
“It impacts us tremendously. We’ve paid over a billion dollars since it [recapture] started in the 90s,” said Tim Turner, the assistant superintendent for business services. “We have to pay competitive salaries. Are we challenged because of school finance to do that? Yes, we really are. … School finance is like a vice. It holds captive our revenues. As the number of students grow, our need goes up.”
Every year HP Education Foundation, PTAs, Sports Club, and other groups try to fundraise to make up some of the loss in revenue. Executive director of the HPEF Jan Peterson said that in a bond election year, such as 2015, the conversation with potential donors was different, rather than difficult.
“When you’re talking about a bond people say, ‘Ok my taxes are going to go up, and so therefore I’ll be giving more money to the schools,’” she said. “But we still need the money to fill those buildings we’re going to build with the teachers and all of the things that are needed for the students to use.”
The HPEF’s annual campaign, Mad for Plaid, has raised $30 million since 2003 to help meet the existing technology needs and supplement teacher salaries. That amount includes gifts made to the organization from La Fiesta de las Seis Banderas and distributed by MFP.
“That’s the heart of the whole thing. The kids of course are the most important, but without teachers you don’t have a school,” she said. “Very few of our teachers can afford to live in the community, so they drive through all these communities that pay equally or higher and why would you do that? So we have to do our best to at least maintain where we are.”
To make sure the rate they do pay is on par regionally, every summer the HPISD personnel department conducts a study to compare what other districts say they’re paying, Turner said.
For the past two years MFP has averaged around $2.4 million, an increase from around $1.7 million during the recession. MFP announced yesterday this year’s efforts raised over $2 million.
“I’m not at all surprised, but I’m still very happy,” Peterson said. “When you get over $2 million you really can’t complain about a thing. I mean that is huge!”
After teacher salary support, which is for grades K-12, the largest chunk of MFP funds go towards technology for grades 5-12. The high school and middle school PTAs work in conjunction with MFP to fundraise to help pay for things such as light bulbs and laptops, according to high school PTA president Kim Quinn.
The elementary schools don’t receive tech support from MFP because they have such active PTA groups, which is why MFP purposefully makes sure not to fundraise at the same time, Peterson said.
“At a lot of the schools, since the 1930s, parents have been working in the cafeterias and supply rooms. It saves a lot of money for the schools so they don’t have to staff those,” said Quinn, a former Bradfield PTA member. “The auctions are always a lot of fun, but the most rewarding part are the activities you get to do with the kids and getting to know the teachers and administrators.”
Those relationships are vital when elementary parents become middle and high school parents and get involved with Sports Club, MFP, or other groups, because determining what the schools need each year starts with conversations between these giving arms and the district.
Turner said the process of crafting the district’s budget for the next fiscal year just started in February, and it would take into account estimates of what the groups could give.
To try to take some of the uncertainty each year out of the equation, Peterson said that growing the almost $15 million district endowment, the Tartan Fund, is going to be critical.
“Annual campaigns there are ups and downs and so even though parents and families in the community are tremendously generous, we want to make sure that we have a little backing that’s always constant that we can rely upon,” Peterson said.