Mum’s the word
Other school districts in Texas may be announcing budget cuts and staff layoffs, but six of the seven Port Aransas ISD school trustees say they’re comfortable with not discussing exactly how the district will live with an anticipated state budget shortage.
Legislators in Austin are wrestling with what State Comptroller Susan Combs has said is a $27 billion deficit in the state’s revenue for the biennium that will start Aug. 31. School superintendents have said they’re apprehensive about how much of that deficit public education must absorb, and where they’ll come up with the money.
In Port Aransas, Superintendent Dr. Sharon Doughty has said the district has no plans to lay off classroom teachers, and in fact the school board has already renewed contracts for all its certified – that is, teaching – employees.
At the board’s April 14 meeting, the South Jetty polled trustees on their feelings about being in the minority about announcing cuts -- a word Doughty said she avoids using when dealing with the coming budget.
The four board members who responded used almost the same words. Board president Chuck Borders and trustee Rick Adams weren’t at the meeting, and trustee Michelle Lorette declined to give a statement.
“It’s simply too early to tell,” said Margaret Price. “I think it would be irresponsible reporting to print something about budget cuts when we just don’t know yet.”
“ Too early to tell” were words also used by board members Jay Jones, Ann Appling and Kelly Owens.
“We don’t know what the state (legislature) is doing,” Jones noted. Legislators have until the end of May to come up with a budget, and they have yet to announce a firm fi- nancial proposal for the 2012- 2013 biennium.
Board member Ann Appling recalled that a previous legislature had waited until the last minute to announce the Texas budget, and it threw school districts into a tailspin because they’re required to have budgets locked in before the start of the school year.
Much of the money local districts get comes from state contributions to education, although that amount varies from district to district, depending on how much each district collects in local taxes.
Doughty said she wasn’t eager to predict where the district will trim, saying she had told the board last year that the district was on track to be named an exemplary district by the Texas Education Agency, when in fact it was named a recognized district.
“I don’t want to do that again,” Doughty said.
She pointed out that she had already asked principals at Port Aransas’ three campuses to submit budgets that are 20 percent less than last year’s.
Asked how they would do that without losing employees, Doughty said, “Every agency has places they can trim. School districts buy hundreds of reams of colored paper for classrooms, and some of that always ends up faded and unused.”
Reached after the board meeting, trustee Rick Adams noted that in at least one way the district has already begun trimming.
“It’s not that we haven’t talked bout it, it’s that we’ve dealt with it by not filling positions of some of our people who have left,” he said.
He pointed out, however, that those positions have not been classroom teach ing positions.
Borders, the board president, said the district hasn’t yet taken any action “because we’re not alarmists.”
He said all districts have in mind a worst-case scenario, but nobody knows what that worst case will be.
In one serious scenario, legislators would decide they’d drop much of the deficit on local districts, he said. One way to do that would be to take the current $1.50 per $100 valuation cap off school property taxes and force school trustees to make the budgetary decisions, he said.
“No matter what happens, we think we’ll survive,” Borders said.
Comments? Questions? Contact Phil Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org or (361) 749-5131.