Holding the line
Budgets from local taxing entities usually don't draw a lot of attention from the public unless it's perceived something is out of line.
In fact the opposite is usually true. The budgets that draw the least attention are those in which the bean counters account for every penny, hold everyone's feet to the fire and go out of their way to make cuts.
That's exactly what's happened this year in the Rockdale ISD. The general fund budget adopted conditionally last week by school trustees is down about $320,000 from the 2008-09 budget.
That's remarkable considering the state continues to contribute less and less to the cost of operating individual school districts.
In fact, this year's budget preparations, so far as the state is concerned, have been murkier than most and the jury is still out on some of the more important questions.
Chief among them is how federal stimulus money will be used to fund teacher pay raises. The district is still awaiting final word on how that's going to happen. Best bet is that it will happen although figuring out how to enter it on the books, and satisfy state and federal authorities, could become intricate.
In preparing the 2009-10 budget, the district had several goals including not increasing the tax rate (accomplished), keeping the budget deficit as low as possible (it has shrunk from $1.5 million to $327,000 so far) and making staff cuts without impacting the quality of education.
That's been happening anyway. Mostly through attrition, the district has been cutting staff over the past several years as declining enrollment has impacted the schools and the amount of state money contributed.
Sure, there have been some fortunate surprises. It turns out a state formula is letting the RISD benefit much more than expected from this year's tax appraisal increases.
That's a bittersweet positive for many area business and property owners, of course. But if the state hadn't let RISD benefit that wouldn't have lowered anyone's taxes here.
None of this, of course, has anything to do with the bond issue construction of schools, which is in a separate budget, funded by separate revenues.
What's happened is that RISD's financial experts, led by Karl Kacir, assistant superintendent for business, are doing their jobs well and the school district's taxpayers, and its students, are the beneficiaries.—M.B.