HISD might avoid pay­ing state

$100M man­dated for re­cap­ture funds could go to re­pairs in­stead

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Shelby Webb

The Hous­ton In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict may be able to avoid pay­ing part — or per­haps all — of its over $100 mil­lion state­man­dated re­cap­ture pay­ment The po­ten­tial re­prieve comes af­ter a school board lawyer found a state law al­lows districts that suf­fer storm dam­age to use re­cap­ture dol­lars to help cam­puses get back on their feet. The law, passed in 2009 in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Ike, per­mits districts lo­cated within coun­ties des­ig­nated as dis­as­ter ar­eas to use their re­cap­ture pay­ments to help cover dis­as­ter-re­lated costs.

Re­cap­ture is the process by which the state of Texas col­lects money from so-called prop­erty wealthy districts to help buoy districts in poorer and of­ten more ru­ral ar­eas. Hous­ton ISD al­ready paid the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency $77.5 mil­lion in re­cap­ture fees this year and could owe an ad­di­tional $60 mil­lion for the 2016-17 school year.

Hous­ton ISD Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Carranza said the law will al­low the dis­trict to con­tinue

fix­ing lo­cal schools and help­ing stu­dents while also help­ing to sta­bi­lize the dis­trict’s fi­nances.

“This is a sil­ver lin­ing,” Carranza said. “We will be purs­ing every con­ceiv­able ex­pense re­lat­ing to Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.”

The law could al­low the dis­trict to use storm-re­lated spend­ing to off­set its re­cap­ture pay­ments for the next two years, Carranza said.

David Thomp­son, an at­tor­ney for Hous­ton ISD’s Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, said the law is meant to al­low districts to use what they would have paid to the state to cover dis­as­ter-re­lated costs not cov­ered by in­surance or FEMA.

“Think of all the things districts spend money on that you can’t in­sure or re­im­burse,” Thomp­son said. “All the thou­sands of per­son­nel hours, the trans­porta­tion costs af­ter all the bus routes are out the win­dow and kids are scat­tered in dif­fer­ent ar­eas.”

Thomp­son said he doubts the law will al­low the dis­trict to get out of pay­ing its en­tire re­cap­ture bills for the 2017-2018 and 20182019 fis­cal years, which could be over $200 mil­lion next year alone. But he said the law will still al­low the dis­trict to keep a “sig­nif­i­cant” amount of its lo­cal money.

Un­der the law, districts with prop­erty wealth above cer­tain lev­els are re­quired to “share the wealth” through the so-called “Robin Hood” school fi­nance plan by pay­ing “re­cap­ture.”

Vot­ers who live within the school dis­trict’s bound­aries have voted twice on ques­tions re­lat­ing to if and how Hous­ton ISD should pay the state’s re­cap­ture fee, af­ter HISD fell into the cat­e­gory of “prop­erty rich” school districts last year.

The first ref­er­en­dum came be­fore vot­ers in Novem­ber 2016, when 62 per­cent of about 334,000 Hous­ton vot­ers told the dis­trict to refuse to pay the state’s re­cap­ture fee.

But af­ter the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency threat­ened to de­tach some of Hous­ton’s most valu­able com­mer­cial prop­er­ties from the dis­trict’s tax rolls to make up for the lack of a re­cap­ture pay­ment, HISD’s board cre­ated a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum ask­ing vot­ers if they would pre­fer the state de­tach those com­mer­cial prop­er­ties or if the dis­trict should will­ingly write the state a check.

Nearly 84 per­cent of about 29,000 vot­ers in May opted to vol­un­tar­ily pay the state’s re­cap­ture fee.

Hous­ton ISD es­ti­mated last week Hur­ri­cane Har­vey could cost the dis­trict nearly $700 mil­lion in­clud­ing re­pair­ing dam­aged schools, adding new bus routes and hir­ing coun­selors.

But Carranza said Thurs­day that the real cost could end up be­ing much less, as some schools are not as heav­ily dam­aged as first thought.

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