Lago Vista ISD braces for state to pull funding away

Lago Vista High School (KXAN Photo)
Lago Vista High School (KXAN Photo)

LAGO VISTA, Texas (KXAN) — Many school districts are bracing for some tough decisions this fall as a stream of state funding dries up. It’s happening all across Central Texas and Lago Vista ISD is slated to lose 10 percent of its total budget and nearly all of its state funding.

“It’s challenging to say the least,” said Lago Vista Chief Financial Officer, Melissa Lafferty.

The handful of people in Lago Vista school administration face losing $1.2 million in state funding through a program called ASATR — Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction — ending in September.

State lawmakers started offering ASATR funds in 2006. It was supposed to keep school districts from losing money after lawmakers cut property taxes across Texas. At first, nearly all school districts received the money. But lawmakers started phasing out the funding in 2011 when the state faced an economic shortfall. This year, just 175 districts receive ASATR. Ten of them are in Central Texas, including both the Lake Travis ISD and Lago Vista ISD in Travis County.

Lafferty says they could raise their local property taxes but likely won’t because they’ll have to give 70 percent of that new money back to the state. Being on Lake Travis, they are considered property rich and have to give money to property poor schools.

“We have teachers and coaches that want to do more and do great things for the kids. Unfortunately as the business manager, I’m left going well the funding just is not there,” said Lafferty.

“In the end, the kids are going to be affected and I hate to say that, we just have to make tough decisions,” said Superintendent Darren Webb. He says they’ll go in to debt next year; the year after he won’t re-hire for lost staff.

A $1.6 billion bill — House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would cushion the cuts by offering “hardship grants.” The House idea is dependent upon the Senate taking it up. The Senate is filled with tax dollar school choice supporters.

Supporters of “school choice” bills want to give state tax dollars over to families to use for private schools or home schools. They say adding competition to the school system will help improve the quality everywhere and allow families to tailor their education for specific needs. The Texas House strongly disagrees. Last week they voted 103 to 44 to ban public dollars for private schools. State Rep. Paul Workman, who represents Lago Vista, voted for the ban.

Webb hopes the idea that wins decision doesn’t hurt the district more. He says lawmakers need “a short term solution to get us through the next two years and then find some type of system that is fair and equal.”

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