The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees met in special session Wednesday afternoon to host its second budget workshop for the 2011-2012 school year.
Budget workshops are public meetings where the board discusses possibilities concerning the budget for the forthcoming year. Items discussed during the meeting are potential district initiatives. The board has until August 31to adopt a final budget.
Trustees and superintendent’s staff discussed several potential cost saving and revenue generating initiatives for the budget, including a one year freeze of employee salaries; cuts to operating costs; restructuring of the district’s health care premium and/or bidding the district’s health care out to other providers; implementation of an open enrollment program; and the sale of advertising at athletic facilities.
The HCISD business department anticipates a reduction in total revenue for the state of about $6.97 million. The state legislature is currently in a special session, which ends on June 30. The legislature did not approve a biennium budget in their regular session.
“These have been tough times for everyone in this state,” Board Vice President Dr. Cesar Maldonado said. “It is the responsibility of this district, this board and our state legislatures to move forward responsibly and effectively so that we can continue to thrive in the present and future.”
The district should be able to supplement the revenue reduction from the state with the $3.1 million federal education jobs grant.
“It’s important to note that we are in a situation that was not created locally,” board Secretary George McShan said. “This is an issue from the state level that we are dealing with. We have been fortunate that the state opted into the federal jobs money, which has proven to be an asset, adding value to education for all Texans.”
Cost cutting possibilities include a 10 percent reduction in operating costs for the campuses and a 15 percent cut in costs for each administrative department. The district is projected to cut $1.9 million as a result of a reduction in professional and custodial staff through the voluntary resignation program once open positions are re-evaluated.
“There were several districts across the state who attempted a voluntary resignation program similar to ours, but were not successful,” board President Gerry Fleuriet said. “I am proud to be part of a district that has been able to maintain stability. We value our teachers very highly and we will always work to limit the impact on instruction, no matter the circumstances.”
Under the projections from Wednesday’s meeting, the district would implement a one-year freeze to the employee salaries and to the teacher salary schedule, as well as adjusting the starting pay for first year teachers to $41,000, a decrease of $200 from the previous year. For example, under the new proposed teacher salary schedule, a teacher with two years of experience would earn the same salary as he or she did as a first year teacher in 2010-2011.
“I commend this board for continuing to keep students first through this budget planning,” Superintendent Dr. Steve Flores said. “We have to be sure to implement strategies that prepare for the long term because we don’t believe this will be a one-year issue with state revenue. This board and our business staff have done a stellar job in fiscal responsibility, allowing us to limit the impact to our children.”
Despite the uncertainty in Austin, the HCISD business office has been proactive in finding cost savings and revenue generating initiatives. The district was able to decrease the interest rate on its 2001 school bonds realizing a savings of over $1.9 million dollars over the next 20 years.
“Our fund balance has allowed us to weather the storm,” Flores said. “Because of this district’s fiscal responsibility, we have put ourselves in a subsequent position to utilize those funds for rainy days if we have to.”
Currently the district holds a fund balance of $30.97 million, which it uses for one-time purchases, such as for the early exit incentive program, and for the purchase of land.
On top of cost cutting measures, the board also discussed moneymaking ventures, such as a program to generate revenue through advertising at athletic facilities. The board also discussed the possibility of implementing an open enrollment program. The District is planning another budget workshop in late July.