RISD: No change in tax rate, slight decrease in budget
It sounds like a science fiction movie title: "The Incredible Shrinking Deficit."
Rockdale ISD trustees unanimously adopted a 2009-10 budget Monday evening reflecting a $371,294 deficit.
That's down more than half from the $801,290 deficit projected in a budget workshop just two weeks ago and about one-fifth the $1.5-million defi- cit administrators were eyeing when budget prep work began this spring.
While things are heading in the right direction, it's far from a done deal.
"This is a budget with a lot of 'ifs'," Karl Kacir, assistant superintendent for business, told trustees. Many of the "ifs" are connected with federal stimulus funds which the state legislature wants to use to fund raises for teachers and other school employees.
The budget is based on a $1.2135 tax rate, same as the current rate.
Meeting in regular session in the Central Administration Building, trustees also heard the RISD's building program will be in a "photo finish" to be ready for the opening day of school Aug. 24 but consultant J. P. Grom predicted new facilities will be ready on that day.
The general fund bud- get approved Monday listed expenditures of $13,138,936, a decrease over the 2008-09 budget ($13,462,854).
What changed in the past two weeks to lower the projected deficit even further?
"We've gotten new interpretations on state funding formulas," Kacir said. "It now appears the increase in our school district's property values will help us much more in funding than we had anticipated."
Kacir showed a complex slide presentation to trustees outlining the new calculations. "I think I ran these numbers more to fully convince myself that this (beneficial change) is actually going to happen," he said.
"This (benefitting from formulas reflecting changes in property values) is only going to help us for this one year," Supt. Dr. Howell Wright said.
But the budget adopted still had more wild cards than a casino floor, mostly in the area of teacher salaries.
Money for salary increases of at least $1,200 per teacher is in the budget but exactly how, and where, those funds will come from is yet to be resolved.
"The state legislature wants to use federal stimulus money to fund those raises, which would average out to a 3.62-percent increase for teachers, counselors and nurses and 2 percent for others," Kacir said.
It's unclear if that plan will get federal approval. "The feds have said the state can give stimulus money to the districts but can't tell them how to use it," Kacir said.
But it's likely the stimulus money will end up funding teacher pay hikes one way or another. "Best case scenario is that it goes through as planned and we won't have to change our budget," Kacir said.
"Worst case is that the state can't give us the stimulus money and each district will then have to apply individually to the federal government."
Even if the worst-case scenario happens, Kacir thinks the districts will still get stimulus funds for teacher pay raises. "It's just going to be an accounting nightmare," he said.
Generally once a school budget is adopted it's pretty much cast in stone. Not this year.
"We're still waiting on guidance and interpretation on a number of issues and new laws, including the teacher salary schedule," he said. "That's probably going to be in July or later."
"We'll adopt the tax rate later in the summer and then in August or September we're going to need a budget workshop to re-evaluate this budget," Kacir said.
Also on Monday, board members approved a $1,649,921 debt service budget and $830,322 food service budget.
Racing the deadline "The high school construction project is back on schedule," Grom told board members.
That marks the first time since Hurricane Ike delayed metal deliveries last fall the RHS renovation expansion project has regained its timeline.
Grom said both the RHS and new intermediate school will be ready for the first day of classes Aug. 24.
"It's going to be a photo finish," he said. "There's going to be furniture delivered while teachers are on the campuses the week before school starts."
In other business, trustees:
• Hired Lance Walker as assistant band director, Dorothy Wright as intermediate counselor and Dustin Cedidla as athletic trainer/health teacher.
• Accepted the resignation of high school cafeteria manager Sue Morgan.
• Heard Dr. Wright report on superintendent advisory committee brainstorming meetings he's held with 20 RHS students. He said concerns include having a closed campus for lunch and an increase in tardies due to the increased size of the high school.
• Okayed the sole bid of $13,578 by Sisk-Robb Demolition to tear down the former art-technology building at RHS.
• Heard Kacir report the district estimates it will make about $190,000 from its Internet auction sale of portable buildings which will no longer be needed.