Brownsville ISD begins work on 2024-2025 budget

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The Brownsville ISD school board meeting room in the district’s Administration Building is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: Brownsville ISD)

The Brownsville Independent School District began work on its 2024-2025 budget at a Saturday morning workshop that sought everyone’s help to offset the impact of reduced state funding and still improve classroom instruction.

Interim Superintendent Jesus M. Chavez opened the meeting by saying he had just come from this year’s district spelling bee at Paredes Elementary and asked everyone to remember the budget is being prepared on behalf of BISD students.

“I want to give a shout out to all of our champions that are competing. I saw a lot of students walk up on the stage and I want to remind everyone that our main purpose here today is to serve the students. We are about educating them. We are about preparing them for the future. We’re about preparing them for the workforce, for college and to make sure that when they graduate 13 years from for some, 14 for others, that they are ready to face life, that they’re productive citizens and that they are able to reach happiness as well,” Chavez said.

At the workshop, the BISD Board of Trustees and its budget committee heard mainly from Chief Financial Officer Alejandro Cespedes, who gave an overview of the budget process, including local property taxes and state and federal funding.

District employees received a 2% pay raise in December, payable retroactively to July. That contributed about $4.8 million to the district’s $14 million budget deficit this year, Cespedes said, adding that the raise came after district taxpayers approved lowering the BISD property tax rate and that the raise was paid 100% out of Unencumbered Fund Balance.

Cespedes listed several factors going into next year’s budget, including:

>> Property values keep going up. … The state comptroller’s office released its preliminary property values, and just as last year, their property values … came in at around $8.6 billion dollars. When we adopted our budget our Cameron County Appraisal District valued our property values for Brownsville ISD at $7.6 billion … So again that’s another hurdle that we’ll have to go through, because … the state is going to use the comptrollers values in order to determine our state aid … and that’s going to mean there’s going to be a loss of revenue that we did not project.

>> House Bill 3 back in 2019 included a huge property tax rate compression. “And then, I believe it was in the first special called session they did another compression, where they reduced it even more. And that’s where we were able to take advantage of giving our taxpayers a significant tax rate cut and we were able to still pass our TRE (Taxpayer Ratification Election). However we do want to make sure that we don’t expect there to be any more significant compressions from the state going forward,” he said.

>> The Legislature increased the Homestead Exemption to $100,000 “and then there is that law that you can only get taxed on a 10% increase gradually, but just so we know, property values are going to keep going up, and unless the state comes in and does significant compression, that is going to affect the district and our taxpayers,” he said.

Cespedes said budget writers will be looking at reductions in all areas.

“We’re looking at everything and what Dr. Chavez has been reiterating to all of us is we’re going to base this based on the district’s mission, on the district’s vision, on what our goals are going to be and a lot of input from our stakeholders, from the people that are here with us today, our associations, our community, our parents who want to know what does everybody think? So that everybody’s on the same page when we do decide to do some budget reductions,” he said

>> Chavez has been saying this over and over. “We want to make sure that the classroom instruction and the accountability remains. We don’t want to reduce the budget in the classrooms, so we’re trying to see where can where is it that we can reduce other budgets, whether it’s district-wide, or is it a specific department, or personnel?

“We want to make sure that everybody is a part of this, that we get input from our stakeholders, our parents our partners our business partners around the community so we can see what they think are some of the things that they can help us with,” Cespedes said.

“Having said all that, there’s still a lot of requirements that we have to meet when we prepare our budget, our reductions. I have to make sure for example … that we’re still meeting that 55% threshold in CTE and bilingual and special ed and sometimes we have to go over that because there’s no way of us reducing their budget without still meeting that threshold,” he said

In an interview last week, Chavez said the district plans to survey all employees for their suggestions how BISD can streamline operations and more effectively educate students.