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School board gets update on funding shortfall

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Denton ISD board members continued to discuss the state education funding crisis at their board meeting on Tuesday evening.

Superintendent Ray Braswell outlined that the Denton ISD needs to reduce its budget by more than 8 percent or $15.2 million.

The cuts are necessary because the 82nd Texas Legislature currently is looking at decreasing the funding for Texas public schools from $6 billion to up $10 billion over the next two years.

Prior to updating the Board on current legislative proposals, Dr. Braswell commended the Denton ISD staff members who attended the Save Texas Schools Rally this past week in Austin.

“It was a huge rally and huge success. I think it helped,” Dr. Braswell said.

Dr. Braswell then outlined proposals being considered by the Texas House and Senate:

Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts has proposed a bill that would use Rainy Day funds to cover the $4.3 billion budget shortfall for the current biennium.

On March 15, the House Appropriations Committee adopted recommendations that increased funding to the Foundation School Program by $2 billion, contingent on the passage of House Bill 275 – which uses part of the Rainy Day Fund to close out the current biennium’s budget. This would still leave a $7 billion shortfall.

On March 17, the Senate Subcommittee on School Finance approved a plan that would reduce the original cut of $9.3 billion in state per-pupil aid included in SB1 by $5.6 billion. This reduction in cuts from the proposed Senate budget still leaves a gap of $3.7 billion needed to maintain student services and account for student growth. (Overall, the Senate plan would reduce state funding to Denton ISD about 7.6 to 8.7 percent or reductions of $14.6 million to $17.4 million.)

In other related bills, the Superintendent outlined proposed House Bill 400, which includes:

– Changing class size requirements for K-4 to a district-wide average of 22:1 with a cap of 25 students per classroom.
– Removing the requirement that accelerated instruction take place in a 10:1 student to teacher ratio.
– Removing the requirement that all high school students participate in the FITNESSGRAM; instead only requiring participation for high school students enrolled in a PE course
– Retaining instructional day requirements, but repealing requirements for specified days of service.
– Requiring compensation plans to be designed – with classroom teacher input – to base compensations on annual evaluations; to recruit, retain and reward effective teachers; and to reward bonuses to employees who meet campus goals.
– Mandating that a declaration of financial exigency expire at the end of the fiscal year, unless the local school board adopts a resolution that declares the financial exigency will continue the following fiscal year.
– Changing the 45-day notice of non-renewal for teacher contracts to the last day of instruction.

Board Trustee Curtis Ramsey said it would be a travesty if the district notified employees on the last day of school and then they wouldn’t have a job to return to the next school year.

Board Secretary Glenna Harris agreed with Dr. Ramsey, saying it would be beneficial if it allowed for increased flexibility in furloughs and other measures to help prevent additional job losses.

“I was down in Austin testifying for House Bill 400 because it does create a lot of flexibility at the local level. It’s a complete change of what we’re used to, but it will allow us to manage our resources more effectively and efficiently,” said Board Member Charles Stafford, who serves as a board of director for Texas Association of School Boards

In other state legislative issues, Dr. Braswell stated that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is naming a special subcommittee with its goal to find $5 billion in nontax revenue for use in the next biennium.

Dennis Stephens, executive director of human resources, outlined the number of employees who applied for the Early Resignation Incentive Program. The district had earmarked 232 positions that needed to be cut to meet projected budget requirements and had initiated ERIP, which provides employees who participate 15 percent of their annual base salary up to $10,000.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Stephens said there were 65 employees who had applied for the ERIP program. After adding in resignations, retirements and leaves of absence, the current number of employees needed to meet anticipated budget decrease was 102, which includes 90 professional positions and 12 aides, para-professionals, custodians and computer technicians.

The board thanked employees for sacrificing their positions to save the jobs of their colleagues.

“They’re certainly our heroes,” said Dr. Harris.

Throughout the meeting, the board and superintendent emphasized if the district receives better financial numbers on state funding, the number of terminations could decrease.

“We have many, many weeks in front of us. Much will change in the next two months…if there is a word we can use, it is patience,” said Board President Jim Alexander.

After the board received an update on the current legislative issues and heard a report on the latest personnel numbers, the Board of Trustees approved “the notice of intent to terminate probationary contract employees in the best interest of the district.”

The board emphasized the importance of assisting these employees who will be losing their positions.

Melonie Lewis, director of counseling services, described a special transition workshop the district was sponsoring for employees who receive the notices. It is scheduled for April 2.

“This effort is showing the care and compassion of our district toward our employees,” Board Member Rudy Rodriguez said.

“This has been a hard, tough decision. Our teachers and staff have been keeping the classrooms intact despite all the stress and worry that they’ve been facing. I am really, really proud of every employee. What could have been an extremely divisive situation has only brought us closer together,” Board Vice President Mia Price said.

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