Barbers Hill ISD prepares to weather budget storm

MONT BELVIEU— Barbers Hill ISD has weathered its share of storms. Typically, they are of the tropical kind. Hurricane Ike was the most recent to challenge the district of just over 4000 students. But the district is also no stranger to the storms that sometimes rage from the west, the state capital of Austin to be exact.
Barbers Hill ISD has continued to provide excellence in the classroom and produce success for its students despite the ever-changing school funding system in Texas. The infamous Robin Hood plan of the early 90’s resulted in a “property wealthy” label for the district requiring that it return nearly half its property taxes to the state on an annual basis. More recently, ups and downs in the economy have also meant ups and downs in the primarily industrial-based property values. These experiences have honed Barbers Hill’s financial management strategies to prepare for such financial “storms.”
As other districts react to the news from Austin of huge budget shortfalls, Barbers Hill continues to plan for a bright future for its growing student population. “Our school Board and current and past administration have been exemplary stewards of tax payers’ money. What a blessing that Barbers Hill ISD can still keep its focus on excellence even during these turbulent economic times,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole.
District “Fiscally Efficient’
Barbers Hill ISD was recently named one of the most efficient school districts in the state of Texas by the State Comptroller’s office. The Financial Allocation Study of Texas (FAST) report gave the district 4.5 of 5 stars for student performance results produced for the resources expended. “BHISD has a culture of efficiency while maintaining the highest standards of service and how rewarding for the state to recognize these efforts,” said Poole.
Several decisions in recent years by voters, businesses, Trustees and the administration have allowed Barbers Hill to “cut the plywood” and “stockpile the duct tape” for a budget storm like the one now looming over the classrooms of Texas.
Local Tax Dollars
First, advantages are already being recognized as a result of a $500 million Property Value Limitation Agreement with Enterprise Products for two new natural gas manufacturing facilities which produce clean energy. The facilities will not only enhance the tax base of BHISD in the future, but they reflect continued capital investment in the District and the State as a whole.
In 2008, the voters of Barbers Hill ISD overwhelmingly – by a 94 percent margin – approved a tax rate which allowed the District to retain $600,000 locally that would have otherwise been subject to recapture by the state. At the same time, the School Board reduced the Interest & Sinking tax rate by 2 cents, keeping the total tax rate the same as the previous year.
Education Foundation
In the fall of 2009, the Barbers Hill Board of Trustees created the Barbers Hill Education Foundation.
The mission of the Foundation is to generate and distribute resources to assist each BHISD campus in enhancing educational programs. To date the Foundation has secured over $3 million in future pledges. The first grants were distributed this year.
Cost-Cutting Measures
The district recently renegotiated its electricity contract to take advantage of low natural gas prices. The savings to be realized from the renegotiation figures to be $500,000 over the next three years.
The district is expanding partnerships and cooperative agreements with the three other school districts in Chambers County to take advantage of shared services
“We are not naive to the seriousness of the budget shortfalls schools, including Barbers Hill, are about to face,” said Poole. “But we believe we have used lessons from the past to help us prepare for the future, and we believe the future is bright for our students. We will continue our tradition of excellence in Barbers Hill ISD.”