LISD Trustees eye tax cuts, New laws offer taxpayers relief
By LPR Staff
After several months of uncertainty about new legislative rules, the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees heard a proposal Monday evening that would both balance the district”s budget and offer relief to district taxpayers.
Under House Bill 1 (HB1), passed by the Texas Legislature during the Third Called Special Session earlie
r this year, districts have been ordered to decrease Maintenance and Operations (M&O) tax rates. For districts like Lockhart, already charging the maximum allowable rate of $1.50, the law translates to a decrease to $1.33 for M&O, according to district finance director Tina Knudsen.
However, HB1 also gives districts the discretion to add an additional four cents to the tax rate, a move which Knudsen recommended to the board in the preliminary budget.
“If we add in that discretionary rate, bringing the M&O rate to $1.37, we will receive more state support,” Knudsen said. “If we decide not to add the discretionary rate, we will show less local effort, which could affect our Tier 2 [state matching] money, not only for this year, but for next year, as well.”
HB1 also requires a $2,500 per year pay raise for teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians.
Although there have been concerns for several months that the district”s 2006-2007 budget would result in a $1.3 million deficit, initial figures presented by Knudsen on Monday show a balanced budget, despite the changes in local support and the pay raises for teachers.
“This budget contains a number of assumptions,” she said. Many of the things discussed by the board and administration over the past several months were on Knudsen”s list of “assumptions,” including the elimination of several positions throughout the district and holding off on repairs, including a nearly-$500,000 roof repair at Lockhart High School.
Administrators assured the board that the positions eliminated under the proposed budget had already been vacated through natural attrition, and that passage of the budget would not put either programs or jobs at risk.
For instance, several coaching positions at Lockhart Junior High School are proposed to be absorbed by other coaches, alleviating the need for the district to pay those coaching stipends.
“The staff members aren”t losing their jobs, they would only be losing those stipends,” said Boys” Athletic Director Les Goad. “However, because those positions were absorbed, other coaches will be handling the duties and making sure that the programs are there for the students.”
The athletic programs in question were primarily at the junior high level, focusing in part on the intramural volleyball program.
“We need to make sure those programs continue to exist,” said trustee Timoteo “Tim” Juarez, Jr. “They are important for those girls that don”t make the A or B teams.”
Another position trustees showed concern over is the School Resource Officer (SRO).
Under the current budget proposal, the SRO position would be eliminated from the Lockhart Freshman Campus.
“I”d like to see us reconsider the SRO position,” trustee John Manning noted. “The safety of the student and campuses needs to be of the utmost importance, and the presence of that officer might encourage kids not to make [bad choices].”
Manning suggested that the board keep an SRO position in the budget, to be split between the four secondary campuses and the Discipline Management Center. His idea was met with support from secondary campus principals, but with some concern from the board.
Board President John Flores pointed out that the position is a “split position” with the City of Lockhart responsible for a portion of the funding, and no agreement has been struck with the city to fund the SRO for another year.
However, as budget talks continue, the board pledged to consider continuing the placement of an SRO within the district.
The trustees also engaged in active conversation about cost-of-living and other pay increases for district staff. According to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Theresa Ramirez, the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) is currently performing a statewide survey of pay scales, which may affect the way LISD employees are paid.
Ramirez suggested that in-depth discussion of employee pay rates be held off until the next budget workshop, after completion of the TASB survey.
The LISD board will hold a regular meeting on Monday, June 26 in the board room at the LISD Administrative Office. The next budget workshop is currently scheduled on Monday, July 10. Both regular meetings and budget workshops are open to the public.