Friendswood Independent School District’s board of trustees passed a balanced budget Aug. 14 for the school year as districts across the county struggle financially under a state system they say needs reform.

Trustees approved a budget for the school year, which began Aug. 16, with projected revenue of $49.95 million and the same amount in expenses, records show.

The budget comes as districts across the county are forced to operate in the red as they struggle with myriad issues. Those issues include a state system that funnels local tax money to districts with small tax bases, less state funding and the loss of other funding sources.

Friendswood officials have said their district struggles in the face of a slow-growing student population.

“Essentially, we are a slow-growth district surrounded by fast-growth districts and staying competitive with teacher salaries is a real challenge,” Dayna Owen, spokeswoman for the district, said.

“Aside from a tax rate increase, or a change in the funding formula, the only new money that can be generated comes from new students. Since our enrollment is relatively flat, we are heavily dependent on increases to the formula.”

Despite the district’s funding woes, Friendswood officials were able to balance the budget through careful planning, said Connie Morgenroth, assistant superintendent of business and operations.

“Over the past four years, Friendswood ISD has spent on average 97.7 percent of its expenditure budget,” Morgenroth said. “This year, in order to balance the budget, we budgeted 99 percent of the total expected expenditure budget, thus building in a 1 percent savings.”

Officials also removed $340,000 for priority maintenance projects from the budget to strike the balance, Morgenroth said.

“It is important to note, however, that the budget has $550,000 of contingency reserves built in, along with $350,000 for priority maintenance projects,” Morgenroth said.

Even with some budget tightening, officials also were able to provide salary increases, Morgenroth said.

In a district tax ratification election last fall, 53 percent of residents voted to raise the maintenance and operation tax rate from $1.04 to $1.13 per $100 taxable property valuation. The final vote was 1,267 to 1,111, a margin of 156 votes.

The rate will change by 2 cents, from $1.367 to $1.387 per $100 taxable property valuation. The total increase is 2 cents instead of 9 cents because the school district refinanced some of its debt, resulting in a reduction in part of the rate devoted to debt service.

The trustees approved a $1.2 million plan that would allow for teachers to receive a $2,500 salary increase and an hourly increase of $1 to $1.50 for bus drivers earning hourly wages, officials said.

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