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By DERIK MOORE
WISD Director of Communications
Weatherford ISD administrators have spent many sleepless nights over the past six weeks trying to figure out how the District plans on opening its doors next school year if state legislators take away as much as $10 billion in educational funding cuts, according to statewide school finance and accountability experts Moak, Casey & Associates.
Dr. Deborah Cron, Weatherford ISD Superintendent of Schools, said the District has been handling the state’s financial crisis internally with its staff members and also mentioned the possibility of having to make significant personnel cuts, if necessary. Currently, the District stands to lose as much as $11 million in state funding based on a 19-percent budget reduction from the state.
“We want to be very transparent with our staff members,” Dr. Cron said, “and we will continue to provide informational updates on what is happening at the 82ndTexas Legislative Session in Austin.”
Dr. Cron said the District already has received much feedback from its staff members who have suggested various ways to reduce and/or eliminate budget items for the 2011-12 school year.
“We’re going to take all of our staff’s suggestions and compile a list for both central office administrators and Board members to review,” she added. “So far, the suggestions we have received have included some excellent creative and innovative ideas for us to consider.” The District has used this same process during the 2009-10 school year to reduce costs by over $2 million.
Rep. Phil King (District 61) recently published an open letter to parents of public school children asking for ideas, observations, and specific cost-cutting suggestions to make sure the state’s education dollars are spent wisely.
In his letter, Rep. King said the state must reduce its budget due to the projected reduction in tax revenues from the recent economic crisis. However, according to a December 2010 document prepared for the 82nd Texas State Legislature by the Business Tax Committee, projected revenue generated from the Business Tax in Fiscal Year 2010 fell $2.5 billion below its original estimate of $5.9 billion.
The blame for this $2.5 billion shortfall, the report stated, was twofold: (1) approximately $1 billion was likely caused by the recession; and (2) the other $1.5 billion was a result of the tax’s underperformance. In other words, the Business Tax has never generated the revenue that its creators had originally anticipated, thus causing a structural deficit which will continue until lawmakers either revise the tax or eliminate it and find another means of raising the dollars needed.
Rep. King also mentioned the current ratio of teaching to non-teaching positions in the Texas public education system is almost 1:1 (Blueprint for a Balanced Budget, Texas Conservative Coalition, p. 14), but he mentioned that “many districts in the [Weatherford] area have a much better ratio.” He said Paradise ISD, for example, has a 13:1 ratio.
Paradise ISD Superintendent Monty Chapman responded in a Feb. 15 e-mail to area superintendents that his District’s teachers to “other employee” ratio is actually 1.3:1. According to Texas Education Agency data, Weatherford ISD’s ratio of teachers to “non-teachers” is 1:0.97 (there are 503.16 teachers and 487.03 non-teachers employed at WISD). These non-teachers include counselors, librarians, teacher aides, diagnosticians, and administrators.
The state also has a Rainy Day fund of approximately $9.4 billion. But legislators, at the moment, do not want to tap into this savings account. Since its inception, the Rainy Day Fund has typically run a relatively modest balance, an annual average of $237 million over the Fund’s first 18 years (Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas). In 2008 the balance ballooned along with oil and gas production – and the Fund grew from $1.3 billion in 2007 to $6.7 billion in 2009 (a 400-percent increase).
Since no money has been withdrawn from the Rainy Day Fund since 2005, it will have amassed its projected $9.4 billion by the end of the next budget.
Dr. Cron said that Weatherford ISD staff members started the 2010-11 school year with a 1-percent salary increase but, because of increases in the TRS ActiveCare insurance monthly premiums – coupled with a recent loss with the demise of the Making Work Pay Tax Credit – many employees are now having to dive into their pocketbooks to make up the differences.
“Our District has reduced operational costs, made program adjustments and/or reduction of personnel by over $6 million since 2004,” Dr. Cron added, “and the community overwhelmingly approved a Tax Ratification Election (86-percentage passing rate) on Sept. 11, 2010. We’re doing our part. Now it’s time for the state to step up to the plate.”
The Texas State Legislature does not recess until May 22, and Dr. Cron is afraid the state may go into as many as two Special Sessions which will not allow enough time for districts to prepare their 2011-12 school year budgets.
“We are going to prepare four separate budgets,” she added, “and we will continue to maintain transparency with our employees.”