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LISD budget decrease could reach $4.7m

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

Across Central Texas, school districts are planning for the worst: preparing staffing cuts and school closures to make up for what are expected to be massive shortfalls in State and Federal funding to public education.

In Lockhart, administrators are taking a more conservative view – preparing for the worst-case sc

enario while keeping their eyes on the ball, and trying not to incite a panic.

In a detailed presentation to the LISD Board of Trustees on Monday evening, district CFO Tina Knudsen said the best course of action for the district, at this point in time, is to look at other revenue sources, rather than to focus on decreasing staff.

“Our main focus is to teach the students, and that means minimizing the impact on the classrooms, and minimizing the impact on the staff,” Knudsen said. “Going forward in preparing the budget, and while we wait to see what the [State Legislature] is going to do, we have some things that we can look at that might help to increase our revenue and offset the cuts.”

Among those ideas, she said, she and Superintendent Dr. Jose Parra have considered offering campus incentives to increase daily attendance, and re-evaluating fee structures for services such as the Cub House, and the after-hours rental agreements on district properties.

“We haven’t looked at those prices in a few years, but we know that we’re behind as far as the child care costs,” she said, suggesting that fees for day care at the Cub House are considerably lower than costs for other local daycare providers.

Answering concerns from some trustees that increasing the fees for Cub House services, Community Education services and facilities rentals might also decrease the use of those facilities, Knudsen said that decreased use – which could mean decreased revenue – might also mean decreased spending.

“You have to look at the whole picture,” she said. “We don’t want to increase the prices to the point that we don’t get the revenue from the facilities rental. But at the same time, if the facilities aren’t being used, we aren’t going to be incurring the costs for utilities, maintenance, and paying personnel to be at the facilities while they are open for those occasions.”

Overall, Knudsen offered a more optimistic picture for LISD’s financial future than many districts in the area have projected recently. However, she cautioned, that optimism is guarded, because it is still unclear at both the Federal and State level how education funding will be organized in the coming years.

She said she expected to start receiving information from the State on funding possibilities during the month of March, and told the board she would keep them apprised as the situation developed.

She did say, however, that it was possible that cuts might have to be made in the coming fiscal year budget. Those cuts, she said, could come in a variety of forms, including capital improvements and possibly employment stipends, but she was careful to avoid discussing the possibility of reducing staff.

“We might have to think about a pay freeze, or possibly about re-evaluating our stipend and extra-duty pay,” she said. “Any reduction in staffing, we’re looking at doing that through attrition if we have to, or offering an extra incentive for early notice of resignation.”

Knudsen, who tends to be conservative in her financial estimates to the board, said that cuts in funding could range from $2.2 million to $4.7 million, and that she was following discussion closely at the State and Federal level as she moves forward with budget preparations for the coming fiscal year.

Both Knudsen and Parra offered a detailed explanation of what State Legislators call the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” and educated the Board and the public about what that fund is and how it works.

“It’s not like a savings account in the way we usually think of a savings account,” Parra said. “Part of it does come from any overage in the State’s general fund, but some of that money also comes from the taxes on oil and gas production, so it really is self-replenishing.”

Parra also explained that the fund, spelled out in the Texas Constitution as the “Economic Stabilization Fund” is designed to “prevent or eliminate a temporary cash deficiency in general revenue.” Because of how the fund is structured, its current balance is $9.4 billion, and if used, could be replenished up to $1.3 billion before the next biennium.

“It’s important that we know what that fund is and what it is supposed to do as we move forward in talking to people in our district and in the Legislature,” Parra said. “It’s there for the State to use for one-time costs.”

Parra said there was a great deal of misunderstanding about the fund, mostly in that many

people do not realize that it generates revenue from oil and gas production. He said he was in support of the Legislature tapping into that fund in an attempt to stabilize the economy and help public schools.

“I don’t know the numbers for sure, but it is believed that public education is the largest employment sector in the state of Texas,” he said. “If you want to stabilize and stimulate economies, the last thing you want to do is eliminate jobs among your major employers.”

The board is slated to move forward with budget talks during their March 28, 2011, meeting.

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