Crosby ISD woes offer lessons for state, region
The Crosby ISD in northeast Houston isn’t that far from Southeast Texas, but apparently its trustees and administrators didn’t notice the state takeover of the Beaumont ISD in 2014 for financial and operational chaos. We say that because the Crosby ISD has just earned the dubious distinction of becoming the 16th public school district in Texas since 2012 to declare a financial emergency.
The district will now undergo mid-school-year layoffs and other severe restrictions simply to avoid falling apart.
That means pink slips in up to 15 job classifications, such as teachers, special education specialists, librarians, etc. In all, trustees will have to cut about $6 million from the district’s $57 million budget. That’s not something that can be done by just turning off a few lights in unused rooms.
Part of the blame for this mess rests in Austin. The Legislature has systematically scaled back the amount of state aid for public school districts, from about 50 percent a decade ago to less than 40 percent today. That means each school district has had to make up that shortfall with budget cuts or higher local taxes, and often both.
But each year it gets harder and harder for a district to provide the education it offered last year — and, one hopes, a bit more — with less and less money. Eventually, in some districts like Crosby, the juggling act collapses.
Yet most districts avoid that fate, as they should. At each summer’s budget planning meetings, trustees and administrators should realize how much money they have to work with and act accordingly.
In Crosby, the dire situation came to light in June when the chief financial officer left for another district and her replacement discovered a series of “cash-flow issues” that stemmed from unwise construction spending, soaring payroll and poor estimates of revenues and expenditures. Another trustee who had served for 23 years but left four years ago said recent boards kept approving bloated budgets that were just unsustainable.
In retrospect, this is not something that should have snuck up on anyone in Crosby. The red flags were there, but they weren’t being noticed. And if it can happen in Crosby — or Beaumont — it can happen to any other school district in Southeast Texas.
Yes, school officials and all taxpayers should be banging on their state representatives and senators to start increasing state aid instead of cutting it in the new session that begins in January. But however that battle turns out, every school district should spend every dollar it has carefully. The way to get into a mess like Crosby’s — or avoid it — is no secret.