Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Lancaster ISD trustees advance on 2009-10 budget
The budget leaves tax rates unchanged from prior years.
The Lancaster ISD Board of Trustees met the evening of August 10 to learn more about the upcoming 2009-10 budget. The quorum of five (Marjorie King and Cynthia Corbin-Jarvis being unavailable) quizzed new CFO Earl Husfeld about pay raises, board expenses, and the federal stimulus funding. The budget leaves tax rates unchanged from prior years. The draft of budget and proposed taxes was approved to be posted for public review by the 14, and for final approval, by August 24.
Mr. Husfeld's presentation was the fourth the trustees have considered the past year. Interim CFO Michael Fletcher began the process during the summer. The longer period of development and review was a recommendation by the TEA and Lancaster's financial conservator James Damm. Even so, the budgeting process has been a bit behind the calendar that Damm had hoped for. The delays are largely due to the turnover in staffing. All concerned indicate the process will be on schedule next year.
Earlier budget drafts, based on the Dallas County Central Appraisal district's estimated evaluations, supposed a greater share of revenues would be raised from local funding. But a drop in home re-sale values, about 10% overall, reduced projected local tax revenues. Texas school funding formulas indicate that state funding will compensate. The state has also clarified, over the course of budget planning, which categories of school employees MUST receive pay raises in the coming year. Texas House Bill 3646 mandated school districts budget for annual pay increases of about $1,100 for teachers, counselors, librarians, and clinical diagnosticians. This represents a 2% to 3% increase for the included groups. (The state intends to roll over federal stimulus checks to the district to fund the mandate for the coming year. Funding sources for subsequent years are as yet unspecified.) The Lancaster financial team intends for other employees to see a set 2.3% pay increase. Mr. Husfeld stressed this is a partial restoration of the voluntary pay cuts the district asked of employees last year. It isn't yet enough to restore the payrates of the prior year, but it is a sustainable rate.
As planned, the budget anticipates combined general fund revenues from local, state, and federal fund sources of $43.4 million and expenses of $42.4 million, leaving a contribution toward restored fund balance (or savings) of just under $1 million. The projected contribution of $978,914 is slightly less than conservator Jim Damm asked for. Mr. Husfeld believes, however, the starting balance coming into the new school year will, after audit, be a bit higher than anticipated and will show the savings balance to be on track.
The tight margins ($22,000) in budgeting led to a lengthy discussion among trustees regarding their own budget and perks. In particular, a small catered supper available to the board during regular meetings was offered as a sacrifice. The board's Administrative Manager Joyce Brein disclosed that the expenses have been trimmed in the past year from a rate of $70-100 per meeting to present cost of about $50. Board President Carolyn Morris indicates the members themselves are contributing to repay, or offset, that expense. Trustee Ellen Clark estimated that nearly 2/3 of the meal provided each meeting went to waste; and her colleague Irene Mejia indicated she'd have no objection to eliminating the practice entirely. Mr. Husfeld reported the entire budget for the board was a small part of the margin -- $2,500 in training and travel for the board's participation in state conventions and conferences. Ms. Morris asked the question be reconsidered when all seven members were attending.
In other business, the trustees approved renewal of a cooperative education agreement with Cedar Valley Community College. Lancaster High School and the College continue in a partnership that allows HS students to take classes in government, economics, and automotive technology at the college for college credit. Additionally, Lancaster High teachers with appropriate certification may teach college-level classes, under the CVCC accreditation authority, also allowing their students to earn college-level credits. Assistant Superintendent Eugene Young revealed that the district is considering incentives to teachers to obtain such "subject matter" advanced degrees -- masters or doctorates in math or history, for example. At present, Young said, good teachers tend to seek advanced degrees in administration or management, which pulls them out of the classroom. The proposed development incentives are hoped to allow developing teachers to eventually earn more in their regular role as well as augment income in second teaching jobs at area colleges. The board approved the agreement with CVCC 5-0.
There was no executive session and so no discussion or progress regarding selection of a new permanent superintendent. The meeting adjourned before bedtime, for a welcome change.
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