At Monday night’s packed Blanco Independent School District board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Buck Ford addressed the effects that the state’s budget shortfall will have on the district. All trustees were present for the meeting.
Dr. Ford reported that the Texas House released a budget that allocates $31 billion less than the last biennial budget, cutting school funding by $9.8 billion for the next two years. The Senate’s budget proposal cuts $9.3 billion.
The budget would not allow any new money to account for population growth in the state. Texas is expected to add 80,000 new students, at a cost of $2.2 billion. Dipping into the state’s “rainy day” fund or raising taxes are not options, according to the governor and legislature.
Dr. Ford, conferring with business manager Kay Fraser, estimated that Blanco ISD faces a 10% cut in funding from the state, which equates to a $350,000 shortfall. Dr. Ford noted that, furthermore, the district will not be able to count on the $305,000 in federal stimulus funds that it had received for the past two years, nor $278,000 from Title and special education grants. There will also be a 15% cut in federal funds equaling $55,000. The district must also maintain a fund balance that could keep the district running for three months, which would cost $500,000. The fund can currently carry the district for two and a half months.
All told, the district is planning on a total shortfall of at least $1.48 million.
Dr. Ford shared a report by Moak, Casey & Associates, the school finance and accountability experts whose work is widely used by school districts around the state. The January 21 report analyzes three potential scenarios designed to reduce statewide school funding by $5 billion per year. Instead of the 10% cut, or $350,000, estimated by the district, the report estimates the cut will be from $1.1 to $1.9 million for Blanco ISD.
Given those numbers, the budget shortfall for BISD could be up to $3 million.
“It’s very difficult to get your mind around how the shortfall will affect the BISD,” the superintendent said. “It’s staggering.”
The board discussed that politics were coming into play in the state government, indicating what’s known as the “Doggett amendment” to the federal Education Jobs bill and Governor Perry’s refusal to use the money to supplement the school budget.
The superintendent said he was hopeful that the state legislature would find a resolution to the budget shortfall and protect the school districts; as of right now, there is no answer. “We go forward with what we have now, being prudent and responsible.”
The board considered the Early Notification Resignation Incentive. As 80% of the district budget is employee compensation and benefits, the trustees looked at reducing costs by reducing positions. The district proposed the incentive to voluntarily reduce positions and, the superintendent stated, to enable the district to evaluate its position and save money by absorbing vacated positions with current district personnel. The district suggested paying out 25% of base pay, up to $15,000, to employees who elect to submit their resignations by the end of the day on March 1. The employees would then complete the school year.
If five employees take the resignation incentive, the district pays $75,000 now and saves $250,000 next year. If 10 employees resign, the district pays $150,000 now and saves $500,000 next year.
Dr. Ford stated that the incentive was very aggressive. A $1,000 to $2,000 incentive was proposed at a previous budget workshop, but that would not be enough to sway those making $40,000, Dr. Ford said. With 10 resignations, the superintendent stated that the board could balance the budget. If the district doesn’t get 10, and the state budget numbers don’t change, the board would decided on its own at the March meeting how to reduce staff.
Trustee Troy Immel asked why probationary teachers were eligible for the incentive. Dr. Ford stated that those teachers are more vulnerable in a system with layoffs and cutbacks and he was doing all he could to get voluntary resignations. The district has 11 teachers in their probation period.
Trustee Charles Riley asked how many teachers would take the incentive, noting that they could not find jobs in other school districts. Board President Matt Herden stated that the incentive was an idea the district had to try.
“I love our teachers,” Dr. Ford said. “I’m not going to lean on our teachers.”
Trustee Mary Ann Weaver asked if the teachers who took the incentive were eligible to reapply at the district. Dr. Ford said that, theoretically, they would be but the district wouldn’t rehire them.
Herden and business manager Fraser noted that the incentive might help some employees who are considering retirement make up their minds. Herden added that the incentive was a one-time offer.
Immel asked if 10 resignations was the limit and said that he hopes that the resignations were spread throughout the district rather than isolated in one department. Dr. Ford said that the district has funds set aside for re-certification should teachers choose to teach another subject.
Immel moved that the board approve the incentive; Weaver seconded. Except for trustee Bernie San Miguel, the board voted to approve the item.
Prior to the report on BISD’s budget, Dr. Ford read reports from the capitol and from other school districts around the state. Options put forward at the state level include district employee furloughs of one to 10 days and salary reductions. The state legislature would have to pass legislation to allow either option as currently they are both against the law.
House Bill 1171 has been introduced to move the deadline for providing notice to teachers regarding renewal or non-renewal of contracts from 45 days prior to the last day of instruction to 10 days after.
Dr. Ford called the furloughs and reductions “a tax on teachers and educators,” saying the state is singling out one group to fund the budget shortfall.
Locally, Dr. Ford said the district can eliminate $110,000 in retention bonuses and freeze the salary schedule. Teachers would still receive their state-required step but the schedule would remain unchanged.
Kay Fraser said that eliminating the early property tax payment discount would generate $130,000. This would effectively raise property taxes on those 65-years-old or above even though their property taxes are otherwise frozen for their homestead. Fraser noted that this action would affect cash flow, as property owners would then wait until the end of January to pay since there would be no discount for paying in October.
The board will hold a budget workshop on February 28 at 7pm to discuss options.
Previously in the meeting, the Citizens Advisory Committee, which was assigned to study the needs of the school district, reported on the reformatting of the failed bond proposal. In a presentation of the new proposal, two items were deleted — the elementary running trail and the stadium parking lot paving. The proposal has been separated into three separate bond issues. Property taxes would increase nearly $55 for a home valued at $100,000 if all three passed. As before, homestead taxes are frozen for owners who are 65 years old or older. Committee member Becky Greathouse said the plan is “really valid and necessary,” especially to get more elementary classes in the building. The school board will decide whether to call an election at a future meeting.
The bond money would be untouched by any budget shortfall. Dr. Ford later noted that the bond proposal included $200,000 in technology funding—an increase of $100,000 from before—and $90,000 for a new school bus. The district wouldn’t have to fund those items, giving the budget a $250,000 boost.
At the start of the meeting, Board President Matt Herden welcomed the packed library and wished everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day. During the open forum section, parent Rodney Green reported on the baseball program. He stated that the kids were ready and the coaching staff had done its homework. He said that he had upset people last year with his statements.
Parent Melodie Noah told the board that she was concerned about a teacher and wanted to notify the board that issues would need to be discussed.
Stuart Stromeyer endorsed the Making Education a Priority resolution, which was on the agenda for the board to consider.
In the Superintendent’s report, Dr. Ford noted that Blanco ISD was cited in Texas Education News regarding a court case, Donnea Simon v. Blanco ISD, where the school district was upheld on appeal. Herden stated that the court decided that the appellate must pay all costs for the appeal and the original case, and the ISD would not have to pay the attorney costs.
The superintendent’s spotlight on students was aimed at the district UIL team from Blanco Elementary. The special education team at the high school were the featured district personnel.
In an update on student services, the district counselors reported on the programs in place to help students prepare for life after graduation. High school counselor Michelle Skillman spoke about the Kuder Navigator web-based application that helps students prepare for the ACT, create resumes and cover letters, and research occupations and salaries. Skillman said that a letter is going out to parents to explain the capabilities and that every student with an email address has been enrolled in the system.
Middle school counselor Lisa Rogers explained that the students in her school are being educated on careers, education requirements, and salaries. Students would also be taking the ACT preparation test, EXPLORE. The PTO helped fund a new character-building program called Building Champions.
At elementary, Patricia Mangold reported that the Yellow Dino program has been implemented by volunteers from the Blanco County Child Protection Advocacy and Action group. The program, designed for pre-kindergarten to third grade students, teaches them how to protect themselves from strangers.
All three counselors are also being trained for trauma; they will be certified to help students with abuse, loss, and other forms of trauma.
School will be in session on May 30, the bad weather makeup day. The board also discussed the TASB Winter Governance Seminar on February 24-26 in Corpus Christi, correspondence received from charter schools that had proposed an amendment, and correspondence from the property tax assistance division of the state comptroller’s office. The board also had the first reading of TASB Policy Update 98.
After the Superintendent’s report, the board considered the “Make Education a Priority” resolution. Half the school districts had approved the resolution, which said that education must be properly funded. If the district approved, its name would be put on a website and sent to the state legislature. Mary Ann Weaver motioned to approve the resolution and Trustee Darrel Wagner seconded. All board members approved.
The board voted to table the 2011-2012 school calendar after the superintendent made the recommendation. The youth stock show, previously on January 19-20, was moved to January 5-6. Another committee meeting would need to be convened to make the change to the calendar, Dr. Ford said. Darrel Wagner said that other stock shows forced the Blanco County show to reschedule. Comfort holds theirs on January 12-13, he said, and the district show is on January 19-20. As many animals get sick at the district show, the local stock show was moved to the first week of January.
In closed session, the board considered extension of contracts for the superintendent, high school principal, middle school principal, elementary principal, business manager, athletic director, curriculum/special programs director, special education director, and technology director. In open session, the board extended the superintendent’s contract to June 30, 2014 and the other contracts through the 2012-2013 school year.
As spring break is set for the week of March 14-18, the next school board meeting will be on March 7.