Answers still evasive for LISD budget
By LPR Staff
An avalanche of information provided more questions than answers as the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees embarked on a nearly eight-hour marathon meeting on Monday evening into the wee hours of Tuesday morning. With several hot topics on the agenda, the Board dug in their heels for the long haul, but ended the night witho
ut much forward motion.
The most pressing business presented to the Board on Monday was continued discussion of school finance, and the uncertainty brought about by projected changes to the State’s contribution to local school districts.
Historically, the Lockhart ISD has been fiscally conservative, and that conservatism has led the district to be in a less tenuous position than many surrounding districts, which are projecting deep cuts to staffing and services to offset what some fear will be multi-million dollar reductions to school budgets.
District CFO Tina Knudsen gave an informative presentation to the Trustees, based on the most current estimates provided by the Legislature. Her research, she said, suggests the District stands to realize a budget reduction nearing $2 million in the coming biennium.
Still, Knudsen attempted to make it clear to the Board that the projections are only that – projections. Because the Legislature has not made a decision about the State’s budget, she said, it is difficult to project how State finance will impact students at the local level. As decisions are made at the State level, a clearer picture can be painted locally.
However, she said, a notable change could come in the form of a frozen or decreased contribution for new student enrollment, and that payments to school districts due during the first year of the biennium might be deferred to the second year.
The silver lining for LISD could come in the form of a healthy “fund balance,” which might be used to offset cuts threatened by the State.
Over time, LISD has been able to develop and maintain a fund balance of nearly $12 million, well over the optimum level recommended by school finance experts, and sufficient to cover a little more than three months of district operations.
Some of that balance, she said, could be used to offset the projected $1.9 million shortfall, without putting the district in a precarious position for future operations, and without reducing the district’s financial standing or bond rating.
Among four possible budgeting options Knudsen offered the Board consideration, one was the idea of passing a deficit budget for the first year of the biennium, which would dip into the District’s “reserves” to offset the costs.
Other options included cost avoidance and cost reduction measures, as well as the possibility of putting off improvement and maintenance projects and, as a worst-case scenario, the possibility of reducing personnel and services.
Each of the scenarios, she said, is simply an option the administration chose to present to the Board, and no reductions in force or services are planned or set in stone. As the Board moves forward into the budgeting process this spring, as Board President Timoteo “Tim” Juarez, Jr., noted, it is important for the Trustees to have a clear picture of all their options.
The Board is expected to finalize the district’s budget on June 30, 2011, little more than a month after the Legislature wraps up business for the session, and two weeks after the deadline for Governor Rick Perry to sign or veto bills from the 82nd Legislative Session.
In other business, despite the budget crunch, the trustees spent nearly 45 minutes discussing the possibility of either renovating or rebuilding the LHS tennis courts, and constructing courts at Lockhart Junior High School.
Buoyed by vocal support from several parents and members of the Lockhart High School Tennis Team who are concerned that tennis players are the district’s “invisible athletes,” Trustee Tom Guyton brought forth the discussion, noting that the courts are used not only by students, but by the general public, and that their current state of disrepair makes them not only difficult to play on, but a hazard.
“I’m looking at this from a safety perspective,” Guyton said. “The last thing that we should want, as a board, is for one of our students, or for a member of our community, to get hurt playing tennis on these courts.”
For several years, the courts have been listed as a “Priority One” project, expected to be funded either through a bond referendum or a as a capital outlay project. However, the needs of other facilities have always taken precedence, putting the tennis courts on the back burner.
Presently, the tennis teams are the only athletic organization which is forced to travel for 100 percent of their games, because the current courts are not up to snuff for hosting tournaments. Additionally, Lockhart High School does not have sufficient court space to host “round-robin” tournaments, a fact which drove parents and students to ask the Board to make the changes.
“I played tennis as a freshman, and these courts are the same courts I played on then,” said Robin Lewis, the parent of an LHS varsity tennis player. “We have a new band hall, new field house, new gym – there comes a time when you have to do the right thing because it’s right, and it’s the right time to do something about the tennis courts.”
According to Assistant Superintendent Cliff Gardner, the cost for paving alone on each of the existing courts could cost up to $46,000. However, Gardner did not have figures prepared for the total cost of a renovation that would allow the tennis courts to be used for district tournaments. He estimated, though, that the total figure for the equipment, fencing, paving and renovations needed could cost the district upwards of $450,000.
The Board asked to send out a Request for Quote on the work, and requested that Gardner bring back more accurate figures to a future meeting.
Referencing an earlier conversation about the fact that the district budget currently shows a cushion in the fund balance, Trustee Juan Alvarez said at least a part of that fund balance should be used for the one-time expense of renovating the courts. However, other trustees declined to take a public stand on the issue.
A final decision on the possible renovation of the tennis courts is expected to be made as the district moves forward through the budgeting process through the spring and summer.
In brief news:
The Trustees recognized several students and many members of the community, including the UIL State and Regional Choir qualifiers and several Visual and Scholastic Arts Regional Winners and State Qualifiers, and the volunteer reading mentors from Plum Creek Elementary School.
The Board approved a calendar for the 2011-2012 school year, which includes the students returning to school from the Winter Break on Jan. 2, 2012, and holds a graduation date of May 25, for the class of 2012.
One parent came forward to object to the calendar, stating the May 25 graduation date was out of step with the graduation dates for several local districts, and suggesting it would create a hardship for her family, because they would have to choose whether to stay in Lockhart to attend their son’s graduation, or travel to New York to attend their daughter’s graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Although the Trustees noted they had empathy for the parent and her concerns, they opted to accept the calendar as presented. Trustees Brenda Spillman and Chip Pittman voted against the calendar.
The proposed calendar is available on the District’s website at www.lockhartisd.org.
The Board spent several hours in conference with attorneys discussing a number of matters, including personnel contract issues, an earlier request for an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott regarding a staffing transfer issue, and a grievance filed against several board members by a district employee whose contract was not renewed last month, despite a positive recommendation from Superintendent Jose Parra.
The content of those discussions is protected under the Open Meetings Act, as well as by attorney-client privilege.
The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees routinely meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Conference Center at Lockhart High School, 906 Center St. (#1 Lion Country Dr.), in Lockhart. The meetings are webcast over the district’s website, and rebroadcast on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10. Parents, students and concerned citizens are encouraged to attend, watch and participate in the meetings.