School board addresses budgetary issues

When the Denton ISD board opened its first budget meeting for the 2011-12 year, Superintendent Ray Braswell asked the board and the 150 educators and community members in the audience to not lose track of “our sardines.”

“These sardines represent our new employees,” he said, adding that he had asked the new employees to be a 100-percent “committed sardine” when he welcomed them into the district in August.

“During this budgetary process, we need to be looking out for our “sardines.” Our “sardines” are in trouble and we do not want to lose track of these valuable new employees … they committed to us and we need to be committed to them,” he said.

The staff unveiled how they could obtain up to $16.3 million in budget reductions. This would include $11.1 million in expenditure reductions, $2.5 million rollover from the 2010-11 budget, and $5 million from the district?s fund balance. After $2.3 million is taken from the budget for possible unemployment benefit costs, the remainder would be $16.2 million or a reduction of 8.57 percent.

“As the state comes out of its recession, it doesn’t make sense to add to the unemployed – but yet that is what is happening (employee cuts) to school districts throughout the state,” Dr. Braswell said.

School officials emphasized that the district recommends focusing on non-personnel reductions first and on district-based personnel reductions second. Campus-based reductions are recommended as a last resort to the budget. The district plans to utilize any reserve funds that would be available.

“Although some employees will receive non-renewal letters in March, we will not stop working to keep as many personnel positions as possible until the school year starts in August,” Dr. Braswell said.

The proposed plan is an 8 percent decrease of the current $190 million budget. The reduction includes offering resignation incentives, implementing a “hiring chill,” considering furlough days and cutting some programs.

“We’re developing a budget approach that would save as many personnel positions as possible,” Superintendent Ray Braswell told the board.

The budget decreases are being considered because the 82nd Texas Legislature currently is looking at proposed budget cuts of almost $10 billion to Texas public schools over the next biennium (the next two school years).

“There has been a structural problem in educational funding that needs to be corrected and there needs to be some action by our state legislators on fixing these problems or these deficits will just continue,” Dr. Braswell said.

The state’s revenue shortfall is attributed in part to the legislature compressing the property tax rate for school districts. To fund this tax reduction, the legislature implemented a business franchise tax. However, only $3.9 billion of the estimated $6.4 billion in revenue has been realized at the state level.

“The downturn in the economy has had an impact on the budget, but it has not been the only impact,” Dr. Braswell said.

The first proposed cuts would be reducing non-personnel programs. These include:

– Five percent central level budget reductions – $516,570;
– Reading Counts software maintenance contract – $16,778;
– 50 percent cut in field trips to Clear Creek and Elm Fork – $24,761;
– Reducing high school budgets by $2 per pupil – $12,460;
– Discontinue UniServity Program – $32,720
– Reducing School Board Training – $18,527
– Reducing Custodial Supplies and go to contract services – $85,624
– Discontinue UNT America Reads Program for college interns – $5,000
– Other supplies and equipment – $3,000

Total – Proposed non personnel: $715,441

The district unveiled its first district-based reductions in personnel, which include:

– Furloughing of 230 day contract administrators and professional support staff to 226 days – $137,295
– Keeping the executive director of operations and early childhood positions vacant – $175,496
– Moving construction coordinator from general fund to bond – $85,395
– Special education administrative resignations and program completion – $137,198.
– Curriculum support – $198,497
– Move curriculum support position to Title 2 – $78,691
– Reduce technology support positions- $245,592
– Vacant technology engineer position- $56,843
– Reduce stadium support by ½ position – $26,567
– Reduce operations/maintenance support by 4 positions – $172,551
– Reduce custodial support by 34 positions and go to contract services (difference in costs) – $216,487
– Doctoral internships, 2 positions – $59,645
– Assistant principal, extra duty – $4,500

Total – Reducing district-based personnel: $1,594,764

The reductions in elementary positions that are being considered include:

– Staffing of 22:1 ratio in kindergarten through 4th-grade (overflow or add the next unit after there are 24 students in each section) – 42 positions: $2,415,000
– Staffing of 26:1 in fifth grade (overflow or add next unit after 28 in each section) – 5 positions: $287,500
– Needs-based staffing for EXPO and ESL – 7.5 positions – $431,250

Total – Reducing elementary positions: $3,133,750

The reductions in middle school positions that are being considered include:

– Teaching positions – 24 positions: $1,380,000
– Office paraprofessionals – 6 positions: $131,454
– Middle School Athletic stipends – 12 totaling: $67,020

Total – Reducing middle school positions: $1,578,474

The reductions in high school positions that are being considered include:

– Modifying the high school block scheduling – 65 positions: $3,762,755
– Extra duty help for PSAT preparation – $6,000
– Secondary campus administration/office positions – $276,233
– Community in Schools Match Intervention Counselors – $36,000

Total – Reducing high school positions: $4,080,989

The total in reductions at all campus levels is $8,793,213, which brings the total to more than $16 million, or a little over the projected goal of 8 percent of the current budget.

“All these decisions are based on how we can get through the next biennium and how to cut budgets. We tackled the budget in phases – starting with 8 percent or about 15.2 million of $190 million budget,” Dr. Braswell said.

“I think what’s most compelling is that you in the audience understand the intensity as we work through these issues. What is so intensely frustrating for all of us is that the state is going to force us to entrench all the hard work that we have put in to bring us to the level we’re at now,” said Board President Dr. Jim Alexander.

The board emphasized to the audience the importance of communicating with state legislators.

“The 82nd legislature is halfway done. The single biggest help in this pickle that you can do is to get the legislature to tap the rainy day fund, which needs 2/3 votes in Texas House and Senate. Contact our legislators… tell them it’s raining. If there was ever a cause to use the rainy day fund – it is now,” said Board Member Charles Stafford.

“While in Austin this week, our area legislators told the public education group that the state should tap into the rainy day fund. Our local legislators are trying to help, but they need data. They are not experts on school finance. I know because I didn’t know how much until I got on the board and looked at the data,” said Board Member Mia Price.

Board approves resignation incentives to select groups

In a 7-0 vote, the board approved an early resignation incentive for certain employees.

The incentive, which is 10 percent of an employee’s base pay, is only open to designated groups. It includes staff members who have a minimum of 15 years of service and are on continuing contracts. It also includes non-contractual staff, such as select computer tech
s, paraprofessionals and custodians who have a minimum of four years of employment.

In outlining the proposal, Executive Director of Human Resources Dennis Stephens said “the goal is to save as many positions as we can.”

To be eligible for the incentive, an employee must complete their employment guidelines for the 2010-11 school year, must be employed full time and are subject to Teacher Retirement System (TRS) benefits. The deadline for submitting resignation letters is 5 p.m. Friday, March 11.

School officials outlined the incentives as a way to help reduce the budget for 2011-12 school year.

The guidelines approved by the board targets 199 full-time staff members. Those include the 152 teachers and assistant principals:

District Wide Campus Elementary Teachers (Non-Special Education)
-Presently assigned to teach pre-school through fifth-grade
-Accepting the first 55 letters of separation

District Wide Campus Middle School Teachers (Non-Special Education)
-Presently assigned to teach any content area at the middle school level
-Accepting the first 24 letters of separation

District Wide Campus High School Teachers (Non-Special Education)
-Presently assigned to teach any content area at the high school level
-Accepting the first 65 letters of separation

Curriculum Support Teachers
-Presently assigned to the Professional Development Center (PDC)
-Accepting the first four (4) letters of separation

Secondary Assistant Principals
-Accepting the first four letters of separation

The incentive also includes 47 non-contractual employees who must be employed for at least four years:

Computer Technicians – Pay Grade I
-Accepting the first seven letters of separation

Middle School Office Paraprofessionals
-Accepting the first six letters of separation

Custodians (District-wide)
-Accepting the first 34 letters of separation

In other action, the board discussed and then approved the first reading of Policy DFF (Local) Termination of Employment Reduction in Force and it was explained by School Attorney Randy Stout.

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