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LISD cuts stipends, freezes pay

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

Despite their attempts to keep the statewide budget crunch from impacting district employees, the Lockhart Independent School District Board of Trustees was forced to make difficult choices on Monday evening regarding how – and how much – those employees are paid.

In votes on two separate aspects of the district budget for the coming

fiscal year, the trustees chose to freeze employee pay, and to reduce or eliminate some stipends and extra duty pay.

In light of the budget crisis at the state level and lingering questions about the amount of funding the State plans to provide for local school districts, the pay freeze was expected, and passed with little discussion or contention. That, along with the “freezing” of several positions within the district, were the only recommendations from the administration that would have directly impacted the staff.

The “freezes” and reassignments, Superintendent Dr. Jose Parra said last week, largely pertained to positions that, through the course of the last school year, had been vacant. Rather than eliminating positions or dismissing staff outright, the District instead decided to reassign several staff members, and restructure duties to absorb those positions utilizing existing staff.

Parra said when budgetary conditions improve, the positions are likely to be “unfrozen,” and posted to be filled. Despite rumors to the contrary, he said that no district employees lost their jobs as a result of those changes, which are expected to save the District upwards of $530,000.

The second change, a reduction in many employee stipends and the elimination of others, along with the elimination of extra-duty days for district Ag teachers, faced a greater challenge.

The reductions, which cut stipends and extra-duty pay for dozens of employees,  including coaches, UIL Academic sponsors and extracurricular sponsors, was presented to the board as a possibility, but was not a change that was supported by the administration.

Parra told the Trustees on Monday evening that the change could have a negative impact on teacher morale and volunteerism and would have an overall impact on the budget of only $103,000.

Trustee Brenda Spillmann, backed by Trustee Chip Pittman and Board Vice President Susan Brooks, made an impassioned plea to the other trustees to consider using the District’s $13 million fund balance to offset the difference in the budget, rather than imposing an effective cut to dozens of employees’ pay.

“I think of that fund balance like [a household thinks of] a savings account,” she said. “And when something comes up that you need that money, you have it, and then you build it back up. I think that because our fund balance is such as it is, we shouldn’t even have to consider hearing a reduction in [the stipend program].”

Equally passionate, Trustee Tom Guyton said he didn’t believe the fund balance should be used to normalize employee pay, and instead should be reserved for emergencies and capital expenditures.

“We’re at a critical time and we have to make critical decisions,” he said. “Last year, I wanted to pull from the fund balance to provide employee raises, but was told that we shouldn’t use that balance for those purposes. We have to look at an 8.3 percent reduction in extra duty pay, but we’re fortunate that we don’t have to lay off.”

After Guyton moved to approve the cuts, with a quick second from Trustee Juan Alvarez, Brooks simply asked the Trustees to, “please don’t do this.”

The motion to cut the stipends and extra duty pay passed with a split vote, 4-3. Guyton, Alvarez, Trustee Alfredo Munoz and Board President Timoteo “Tim” Juarez, Jr., voted in favor of the cuts.

In a related item, Alvarez suggested that the Board extend their budgetary cuts by altering two positions, the district Chief Financial Officer and the Assistant Superintendent for Maintenance and Operations, and making those “Director” positions. After consultation with an LISD attorney, who had been on hand for much of the meeting, the Board voted not to take any action on the item.

Though the proposal was listed as a Budget Reduction Action Item on the published agenda, Alvarez said when asked directly that his intent was not to lower the salaries attached to those two positions, or to in any way demote the staff currently holding the positions. The concept of “demotion,” according to Spillmann, was why she had asked the attorney to be on hand for the discussion.

As required by state law, the trustees opened the floor for input on the coming fiscal year budget during a public hearing. No one chose to step forward to address the Trustees during that hearing.

After discussion on those budget issues, the Trustees approved a proposed “near final” budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

That budget proposal includes upwards of $1.56 million in cuts to the current year’s budget, and does address the pay freeze and stipend issues. It does not provide for an increased contribution to the district employees’ insurance plans, and is predicated on the state-mandated tax rate of $1.04 per $100 of valuation for maintenance and operations, and an additional debt service tax rate of $0.1482 per $100 of valuation, making a total tax rate of $1.1882.

The District’s tax rate for 2010 was $1.1948.

Although the preliminary budget and tax rate were approved by the Board on Monday, some changes may be made as the District receives the final certified tax rolls from the Caldwell County Appraisal District later this summer.

The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees routinely meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the LHS Conference Center at Lockhart High School. The meetings are open to the public, and are webcast on the District’s website, www.lockhartisd.org.

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