Pearland ISD’s school board may soon ask voters to approve a major tax increase, potentially eroding some of the new property tax relief agreed upon by the 88th Texas Legislature before it even materializes.

On Monday, the Houston Chronicle reported that trustees are considering seeking voter-approval for a permanent nine-cent tax rate increase that officials say is needed to “help offset a projected $12.7 million budget shortfall…” The deficit, according to officials, is the product of inflation and inadequate state aid; however, a closer look at the district’s financials paints a different picture.

According to its most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Pearland ISD has enjoyed a prolonged period of budgetary excess.

Consider its property tax, which is controlled locally and constitutes its main tax revenue source. From 2013 to 2022, the district’s property tax levy (see pg. 115) rose from $79.5 million to $118.1 million, representing an increase of 48.6%.

Or consider trustees’ long-term spending habits. Between 2013 and 2022, spending (see pgs. 108-109) in Pearland ISD jumped from $154.7 million to $260.5 million, equating to an increase of 68.4%.

Now compare those growth metrics with the relatively modest change in student enrollment.

Over the same 10-year period mentioned above, Pearland ISD’s student population (see pg. 125) grew from 19,650 to 21,007, which is the equivalent of a 6.9% increase. Here’s what those data points look like together.

Source: 2022 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

Given the differential between spending and student enrollment, it should come as no surprise that per student spending has seen a significant increase over the last decade. In 2013, the district’s operating expenditures totaled about $7,115 per capita. By 2022, that figure had increased to $10,768 per student, meaning that Pearland ISD spends 50% more today in order to educate a student than it did 10 years ago.

Source: 2022 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

The information gleaned from Pearland ISD’s latest audit tells a much different story than the one proffered by its trustees, many of whom seem convinced that a 9-cent tax rate increase is in order. If the district truly needs the money for high-priority items, then trustees would better serve their taxpayers by finding it through zero-based budgeting, third-party efficiency audits, and redirecting it away from prior excesses.

The data clearly show that there’s plenty of opportunity to do those things.