Friday, November 15, 2019

Carroll Trustees Hope For Best, Prepare For Worst

Carroll school officials will be keeping a watchful eye on legislation filed in Austin this spring as finance experts predict the district could face additional state funding losses ranging from $3-$9.8 million. Those losses in state aid – the result of a projected $27 billion state deficit – would be in addition to the $2.3 million operating deficit Carroll officials have already been managing through in local budget scenarios.

Trustees generally agreed not to declare the district in a state of financial exigency, primarily because they have worked diligently to build a Fund Balance to address the school funding crisis. This means employees will dodge a Reduction In Force (RIF) scenario for the 2011-2012 school year, but should expect CISD to conduct business differently as they educate the children of this community going forward.

Short-term, Trustees are looking to implement a two-year plan to cut about $5 million out of the local budget as they “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”  On the top of the list of possible financial casualties is block scheduling in grades 9-12 and academic teaming at the intermediate and middle school levels.  Trustees hope to accommodate the staffing losses from these proposed scheduling changes over a two-year period through resignations and retirements, avoiding to the extent possible, the number of educators who will lose their jobs involuntarily. Trustees will take a vote on the scheduling changes and other possible funding initiatives at their regular meeting on February 7. Based on discussion at Monday evening’s budget workshop, the scheduling changes would not take effect until the 2012-2013 school year.

The district has been considering a modification of high school class schedules for more than a year, with plans to implement a modified block schedule as a way to save about $440,000 annually. This scheduling option reduces the number of elective opportunities for students, increases the overall student-load per teacher and reduces the number of credits a student can earn in a given year from eight to seven.  However, Carroll ISD has operated successfully on a modified block schedule in recent history.

For the February 7 meeting, Trustees asked the Administration to include results of a recent community survey prioritized by levels of support, along with each proposed expenditure reduction initiative and the associated savings in one spread sheet.  The Board discussed the following options: reinstating student activity fees, asking one of CISD’s representatives to file a bill in the Texas Legislature giving the district permission to charge for transportation services for students who reside outside the two-mile zone and implementing early resignation incentives for those employees who know they will not be returning to their positions. Having resignation information earlier rather than later gives the Administration flexibility to eliminate positions through attrition by adjusting schedules /class loads and reassigning remaining staff to cover duties. Central office administrative positions and all district-wide support positions will be reviewed to determine future efficiencies and possible savings.

Although no one wants to panic or overreact about proposed Legislation until the unknowns are finalized, early indications show public education will likely face the brunt of the state’s budget woes. Superintendent David Faltys said districts must plan as best they can despite the uncertainty surrounding pending legislation. The gloomy financial outlook statewide comes as Carroll ISD conducts a letter-writing campaign encouraging taxpayers, employees, parents and students to send a message to lawmakers to Make Education A Priority!

The Carroll School Board spent several hours Monday reviewing the district’s current financial situation and mulling over early news out of Austin.  The district is in year two of an Expenditure Reduction process to cut expenses and increase revenues for the general operating budget. Last year, employees across the district took part in a grassroots effort to identify ways to cut expenses. So far, CISD has narrowed a projected $4.1 million budget deficit down to $2.3 million. Trustees have agreed to cover the operating deficit through Fund Balance while they study additional ways to continue education services with less funding.

House Bill 1, filed in the first week of the 82ndLegislative Session, calls for $11.8 billion in cuts over the biennium, sending local districts scrambling to the budget tables to study the implications. The Senate’s version of the budget (Senate Bill 1) was released yesterday with slightly more conservative cuts (about $9.5 billion), but still generated a significantly bleak forecast for public education funding. The news surrounding the details of HB 1 and SB 1 left an unsavory taste in the mouths of Texas teachers and public education advocates.

Faltys acknowledged that bills typically do not get approved and signed into law as first presented, but if HB 1 were to receive approval, Carroll ISD would have to dip into fund balance for $2.8 million to cover a delayed state aid payment, cover a $2 million loss in stimulus funds, find alternative funding for basic technology services, increase class sizes to reduce the teaching staff, reduce a significant number of non-teaching positions and lose cooperative agreement services through the local Education Service Centers.

In a twist of irony, districts that have been criticized for building up their fund balance may now have to dip into those reserves to cover the state’s delayed payments or funding shortfalls.

Carroll’s local School Board has worked diligently to make prudent decisions to build up the district’s financial reserves. Leaders here have utilized Build America Bonds (BAB) to save local taxpayers millions, reduced overall utility costs, taken advantage of solar energy grants, and increased the Fund Balance by selling land and signing oil and gas right leases. The Board is still researching options to sell Carroll Intermediate School, change the fiscal calendar and consider user fees and/or a community check-writing campaign. Trustees reviewed the possibility of utilizing recently generated BAB rebates to offset some of the current Maintenance and Operations budget deficit, but they acknowledged that these revenues will decrease in future years and cannot be relied upon solely to address shortfalls.

The Board took no official action Monday except to verbally reassure CISD staff that they won’t be facing a RIF scenario for 2011-2012 and pledging to vote February 7 on a prioritized list of expense reduction and revenue enhancement ideas.

For more information about Carroll ISD, visit the district’s website.