School jobs on line in funding shortfall

‘Perfect storm’ lines up to hit RISD
Reporter Editor

Facing a shortfall of one million dollars in state funding for 2012-13, the Rockdale ISD is looking towards personnel reductions, and other remedies, to deal with next school year’s budget.

That’s not all, according to Supt. Dr. Howell Wright, who termed the unprecedented upcoming squeeze a “perfect storm” of financial bad news.

In addition to the ongoing state funding situation, the Rockdale ISD is caught in a bizarre “Catch 22” situation in regard to Luminant’s Sandow Power Plant.

Because of Sandow—which includes twoyear old Unit 5—the Rockdale ISD is considered a “wealthy” district by the state.

That means it can’t “recapture” much of the state funding revenue shortfall RISD is anticipating, as it could if Rockdale were categorized as a “poorer” district.

“Even if we would raise taxes—which would require going through a rollback election—we could only go so far, and then we’d have to send much of that money back to the state (because RISD is in the ‘wealthy’ classification),” Dr. Wright said.

There’s more. The district, and Milam County, will be impacted by the result of an ongoing lawsuit against the Milam County Appraisal District (MCAD) by Luminant, which is challenging the MCAD’s Sandow appraisal figures.

“We aren’t supposed to talk about specifics in the suit,” Dr. Wright said. “But it’s going to have a substantial negative impact on the Rockdale ISD if Luminant prevails.”

And enrollment is falling with the Rockdale ISD losing about 65 students as a result of Alcoa layoffs finally kicking in.

State funding is based on a complex attendance formula.

COST-CUTTING—The district already implemented major cost-cutting strategies in 2011-12.

Dr. Wright noted the RISD cut spending by 10 percent and some of that savings came in personnel.

“We did not replace the choir director, nor are we paying for power lifting,” he said. “We reduced seven coaching slots. Now, that’s not seven full-time employees.”

The Rockdale ISD froze step pay salary increases and merit pay.

The 2011-12 budget showed a deficit of $ 435,818. “ That was manageable,” Dr. Wright said.

GUIDANCE NEEDED—But the projected 2012-13 deficit is $1,769,751.

“We can’t get that to zero,” Dr. Wright said. “We know we can’t keep doing things the way we have been.”

The district has already planned some additional strategies.

“We’ve gone to a free e-mail system, we’re not having summer school in 2012 and we’ve already asked employees to do additional work,” Dr. Wright said.

Six employees have already indicated they will take early retirement, he noted. That gives the district the opportunity to not replace them or shuffle personnel around.

A similar strategy was implemented in 2011-12.

“We are having a face-to-face meeting with every teacher and employee for their input,” Dr. Wright said. “We know there are going to be cuts.”

The “coping” formula, in a nutshell—less spending, cut personnel and less services.

RECAPTURE—School funding is complex and tricky but a few unambiguous numbers stand out.

Dr. Wright said under current formulas the district stands to lose $2,964,662 in state funding for the upcoming year and will only be allowed to “recapture” $1.9 million, leaving a milliondollar shortfall.

Does that mean a massive tax increase?

Even that won’t fly.

Not only is there a tax cap, with higher rates triggering possible rollback elections, because RISD is viewed as a “wealthy” district, it wouldn’t get to keep all of its locally- generated tax revenue if taxes went up more than two cents.

“We would actually be sending locally-generated tax money to the state,” Dr. Wright said.

Toss in the Luminant suit and the Alcoa drop in enrollment. “There’s the ‘perfect storm’,” Dr. Wright said.

The crunch is showing up in dozens of smaller ways, too.

“There is less funding of the Texas Education Association (TEA),” Dr. Wright said. “There have been a number of layoffs.”

“So we are having to go out and pay a private company to understand some of the information we need to understand, rather than getting that from the TEA,” he said.

The new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test debuts in 2013.

LITIGATION—Are there any bright spots?

Rockdale ISD does have a healthier fund balance than many districts, about $5.3 million.

The district was one of the first in Texas to file suit against the state in an attempt to overturn the school finance legislation which was passed in the summer of 2010.

That suit is now working its way through the courts.

“But realistically, if the suit were to be successful, it would be four years before we could expect any relief,” Dr. Wright said.

“We’ve got to prepare for the next school year and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

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