RISD: Cutbacks, hiring freeze mulled

‘Every expenditure on the table’ with state funding decrease on the way
Reporter Editor

The ‘Blue House’ on Bushdale Road is being purchased by the Rockdale ISD The ‘Blue House’ on Bushdale Road is being purchased by the Rockdale ISD Rockdale ISD school trustees headed into one of their most challenging years ever Tuesday evening as Rockdale joins 1,029 other Texas school districts in finding ways to operate with less state money.

Supt. Dr. Howell Wr ight told The Reporter the district is mulling its options in dealing with what looks to be the largest state funding cutbacks in decades.

“Right now every budgeted expenditure is on the table to be examined for its need and effectiveness,” he said.

Options being considered include a hiring freeze and substantial expenditure reductions.

Meeting in regular session in the Central Administration Building, board members voted to have Rockdale ISD become fiscal agent for the Burleson-Milam Special Services Co-Op and purchased the “blue house” on Bushdale Road.

OPTIONS—Comptroller Susan Combs has projected the state will face a multibillion dollar budget shortfall over the next two years and yet-to-be determined cuts in education loom large.

“We have anticipated the shortfall but until the comptroller released her statement of the dollars that are available for the next biennium we weren’t going to do anything official,” Dr. Wright said noting that a plan will be unveiled as it develops.

“Some of our discussions have included budgeting at a 10 percent reduction in revenue and expenditures for 2011-12 (compared to the current budget,” he said.

“Personnel costs are 80 percent of our budget and our discussion has been to approach personnel with attrition and a hiring freeze,” Dr. Wright said.

FUND BALANCE—Rockdale ISD has one ace in the hole not many districts can boast.

Lee Jenkins, board president, pointed out the district continues to maintain a healthy fund balance, representing three to four months operating expenses.

“Our district has been blessed with sound fiscal and financial responsibility, under Dr. Wright and (former superintendent) Walter Pond,” he said. “We had this (healthy fund balance) for the 11 years I’ve been here.”

“With our strong fund balance we plan to approach budget cuts conservatively for the first year of the biennium,” Dr. Wright said. “If we find out that we need to take more drastic measures we will accomplish that in 2012- 2013.”

FREEZE—Some nearby school districts are already taking cutback measures, well in advance of any formal legislative action.

Round Rock ISD has enacted a hiring freeze and Supt. Dr. Jesus Chavez said the district is reducing spending at least five percent.

In the Hutto ISD proposals already being considered range from eliminating 80 staff positions to temporarily closing a campus and moving students to other campuses for two years.

One option already on the table statewide is allowing for larger class size limits in lower grades, a move which would result in fewer staff positions.

Currently state law caps class sizes in grades K-4 at 22 students per teacher.

CONSOLIDATION— State Rep. Fred Brow n ( R- Br yan) has introduced a bill to consolidate school districts and the idea received qualified editorial endorsement Saturday from one of the state’s largest newspapers.

“Does the Texas public school system really need 1,030 superintendents, 1,030 purchasing agents, 1,030 human resource managers and 1,030 transportation managers?” the San Antonio Express-News asked.

“Small districts would probably lose some of their campuses, especially the high schools, which would be devastating for small town survival,” Dr Wright said.

FISCA L AGEN T—A f ter a presentation by Angie Brashear, director of the Burleson-Milam Special Services Co- Op, trustees voted unanimously for the Rockdale ISD to replace the Caldwell ISD as its fiscal agent.

Brashear said Caldwell ISD, citing space needs, has asked to be relieved of those duties.

A building to house co- op administration, which serves nine school districts in two counties, has been rented in Milano.

Brashear said Rockdale ISD will receive just under $18,000 this school year to cover personnel expenses and the contract should be revisited annually.

BLUE HOUSE—Board members voted to purchase “the blue house,”andthepropertyon which it sits, from Michael and Elaine Willems, at 852 Bushdale Road, for $85,000.

It is adjacent to Rockdale Junior-High School property.

Trustees have said there are no current plans for the house or property.

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