Last week 8/29/19 was our monthly Thursday evening meeting and we met at the Vetted Well inside Alamo Drafthouse. Our program featured our very own club member Justin Bono in a casual setting where he presented key information and was open to questions on any subject related to RISD and the work of the board. If you do not already know, Justin serves as President of the RISD Board of Trustees.
RISD continues to invest in the students of today through new programs and opportunities in our schools and plans for the students of tomorrow through capital planning as it relates to facilities, security and tax rate. The political landscape around school finance has long been a vexing situation but Justin said he gives the 2019 Texas legislature an 8 out of 10 for the work done to support and fund schools across the state. In practical numbers, the new funding policy results in a little over $20 million in increased state funding to RISD and the reduction of RISD’s Robin Hood payments back to the state of around $500K.
The new policy allowed for a reduction in the tax rate for most school districts, including RISD. On Monday, three days prior to our meeting, Justin noted that the trustees had officially approved a ten-cent reduction in the tax rate. While there is never certainty in what will be done by the Austin politicians, it appears the rate will remain reduced. In an effort to be fully transparent, Justin did specifically note that the state policy has a provision that may result in a one-cent increase next year but that is still TBD and subject to the seven-member board of trustees.
Justin outlined the construction project at LHHS, covering the three phases. Phase 1 and phase 2 should be completed in the Spring of 2020 with kids using both a brand-new cafeteria and library. Once that occurs, the 3rd phase can commence which will convert the current cafeteria and library space into classrooms in anticipation of the growth in student enrollment.
Justin spoke about the issue of teacher and staff pay. The new state legislation specified that increased state funding was to be used mostly for teacher pay. Indeed, the district provided raises to all teachers including taking into account years of service, etc. Therefore, when you compare RISD with competing districts, we are now in a good spot with our pay but the cost of living in the RISD footprint is typically much higher. It is challenging for a teacher to afford to live within the RISD community. Mr. Bono hopes he and his colleagues can explore how to enable the cost of living to be factored in when making holistic comparisons in coming budget cycles.
Finally, Justin shared that RISD recently completed a security audit and received that report in closed session (for obvious reasons). The board asked Dr. Stone and the staff to prepare a plan and budget for the action items presented in the report.
Also, for anyone still reading, I offer a “Whoop” since during the time Justin was speaking the Aggies built a 14-point lead over Texas State in their Thursday night season opener.