ORANGE GROVE, Texas — A majority of public school funding comes from the State of Texas. It's determined by property tax appraisal.
Orange Grove Independent School District (OGISD) has not been benefitting from this system and the superintendent said the district needs serious help.
“Per student funding is at an all-time high. We’ve provided more funding for public education and more funding for teacher pay raises than ever before in the history of the State of Texas," Gov. GregAbbott said at his State of the State address.
According to Every Texan, formerly Center of Public Policy Priorities, Abbott's statement isn’t 100 percent true. The basic allotment to schools hasn’t changed since 2019 when you account for inflation.
OGISD is living proof.
“We’ve got to the point where maintenance issues sometimes we just can’t do it," Eddie Hasseltine, superintendent of OGISD said. "Safety comes first and we’ll do it, but now we’re having to pull out of savings account just to do our safety stuff. Teacher raises are very difficult to do or to keep up with the towns around us."
Hesseltine said the state funding system is causing the district to lose nearly $1 million a year.
Here is how he explained schools get funding.
He explained the Texas Comptroller appraises property in the district and so does the county chief appraiser.
In Orange Grove's case, it's Jim Wells County. Their numbers have to come within five percent of each other. If not, then the district is designated invalid and given a state funding assignment, oftentimes costing them money.
The discrepancies only affect schools and not cities or counties.
“We were $96 million difference between Jim Wells county and the comptroller last time. This time we’re $150 million off,” Hesseltine said.
When a district becomes invalid, they have a two-year grace period where hopefully the comptroller and county can get their numbers closer.
After two years, then the funding changes.
Orange Grove has been invalid for six years in a row now the situation is out of their control.
“Through no fault of the school district, the school district loses money. Because the comptroller and the State of Texas is trying to use us as pawns, to ensure that the counties raise taxes the way they believe taxes should be raised,” Hesseltine added.
He said he's had many meetings with lawmakers only for them to tell him if they give him a break, how will that teach the chief appraiser a lesson?
To which Hesseltine said he has no control over the Jim Wells Chief Appraiser Sidney Vela.
Some politicians are trying to help OGISD now with two bills.
State Rep. J.M. Lozano introduced HB2463 and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinijosa introduced SB942. Both essentially would have the same impact if passed.
“Basically, give us a two-year reprieve and give us the money that everybody gets rather than reducing it for two years," Hesseltine said. "Now that’s just a band-aid. We’re going to go right back to where we were because the values are going to be off.”
Hesseltine said last year there were 88 districts that were invalid. Of those 16 districts were losing money, but none had as a significant loss as OGISD.
Hesseltine expressed a new system is desperately needed.
"I just believe that whatever the system the State of Texas uses if they could just make it where the school districts aren't being punished for whatever the system is," he said. "We understand the State of Texas needs to value properties and we understand the county has to value properties. We're going to do our best to educate our kids that's what we do."
OGISD has been rated an "A" in academics and finances, which shows you any district can struggle.
"There's going to be a lot of school districts hurting. I know in the Coastal Bend area I have some school districts that have reached out to me, knowing that we've been going through this and now they're on the list to possibly lose funding themselves. And, they're like what can we do?" he said.
At the pace things are going financially, OGISD could be at risk of having the state come in to take over a few years down the road.
We reached out to a few other districts that were unavailable. We also reached out to the Jim Wells County chief appraiser but did not receive any response at the moment.
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