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IPCISD keeps anxious eye
on state budget proposals

by Kevin Hamilton
With Texas facing a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall (ranging from $15 billion to $27 billion) in balancing the biennium budget, public education is on the chopping block based on proposals from both houses and the governor’s office, with education spending accounting for more than a third of the state’s general revenue spending.

According to Comptroller Susan Combs prior to lawmakers’ regular session, Texas is expected to collect $72.2 billion in taxes, fees and other general revenue during the 2012-13 budget, down from $87 billion appropriated during the current biennium budget. The figure is below what the state generated in every budget since 2006-07, when Texas had approximately 3 million fewer residents.

Current proposals top out at $10 billion in cuts to Texas school districts. Last month, a bipartison group of state senators at the direction of Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, filed a bill to ease some aspects of contract requirements for Texas teachers, who legally must be given 45 days notice before their contracts expire that they wouldn’t be renewed. In addition, the group is working on relaxing legal restrictions against furloughs and across-the-board pay reductions.

School districts large and small across the state are scrambling for information to determine what their own baseline budgets will be for the coming year. Iowa Park Consolidated Independent School District is among them. School trustees will need to approve the 2011-12 budget in August. The final state budget may not be approved until late June or early July, giving local school administrators little time to respond.

HOW TEXAS GOT
TO THIS POINTS

IPCISD Superintendent Jerry Baird, in an interview with the Leader earlier this week, said the shortfall for public education and Iowa Park CISD is in large part a result of two factors.

In 2006, the State Legislature approved rules in which local property taxes for public school districts would be reduced by one third.

This reduction in local funding was intended to be replaced by a new state business tax.

“Due to the downturn in the economy, and other factors, this new business tax did not generate revenue sufficient to replace the one third lost in local school property taxes,” said Baird. “This, coupled with a sluggish economy, has left the Comptroller’s coffers with insufficient funds that were planned to sustain current programs and student growth in our state.”

Yes, growth, Baird noted. While not seen in Wichita County or the outlying areas, the state itself has added about 80,000 new students per year to the public school system. That is the equivalent of adding the student population of the Fort Worth ISD to the state’s enrollment figures each year.

“When all of these factors converge, the end result is there is simply not enough money to go around.”

IMPACT ON
IOWA PARK

When asked how the budget shortfall would impact Iowa Park CISD, Baird answered, “That is a good question to ask, but it is one that is difficult to answer.”

Baird said that preliminary estimates based upon appropriations in House Bill 1 indicate approximately $1.6 million in reduced state funds for IPCISD next year.

“It is early in the legislative session, and that number could change, and I am hoping that it will turn a little bit in our favor before they adjourn,” said Baird. “At any rate, I am sure that we will see some degree of reduction in our funding for the next two years, but we won’t know to what degree until probably June at the earliest.”

IPCISD’S PLAN
“At this point, we are beginning to develop our budget for next year, and will be looking throughout our district for potential savings in operations,” said Baird. “On our personnel side, we are not planning staff layoffs at this point. Our instructional and extracurricular programs are among the best in this region and our state. To that end, we will work to keep them intact and functioning at a high level.”

Operating on that philosophy, said Baird, plans are to extend contracts to faculty and staff this spring. IPCISD’s reserve funds are being committed by the school trustees to keep programs at the current level.

“Over the past few years, our board has been wary of a possible downturn such as this, and they have worked diligently to build a rainy day fund that hopefully will help us ride out these turbulent times,” he noted.

WORST CASE?
“I hate to go there,” said Baird, when asked about a worst-case scenario in school funding. “But if the current financial projections do not change and we are left to absorb these large cuts over the next two years, we could be looking at reducing programs and personnel.

“But, before we do that, we will have hopefully bought ourselves enough time to evaluate our options thoroughly and make the best decisions possible before those cuts are made.

“We are going to do the very best that we can in order to continue offering the students of Iowa Park CISD the very best education along with opportunities for success that we can.”



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