Courtesy Hutto ISD
Updated 5/8/2012 to clarify how matching funds are drawn to the district
District may opt for tax ratification election in fall
Hutto ISD is preparing for the second year in a row of reduced funding from the state after the 2011 legislative session resulted in a $5.4 billion cut to education financing.
To offset a $1.2 million shortfall in the 2012–13 school year’s preliminary budget of $38 million, on April 10 the board of trustees approved eliminating positions, reducing department budgets and implementing fees, effectively closing the budget gap—for now.
Even with the cuts, if the district does not receive any additional revenue, Ed Ramos, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said the district will need to cut its budget again in 2013–14 by $1.4 million.
“Over the past several years, we’ve been cutting and looking for efficiencies within our budget,” Ramos said. “So we’re at a point where we don’t have much else to go.”
As a result, the district could look to voters and local taxes to help with funding.
Ramos also said the district will also temporarily wipe out its fund balance—a savings account to meet cash flow needs—to make payroll in August 2013 if the state changes when it makes education funding payments to districts from August to September.
The district is projected to have about $2.8 million in its fund balance at the end of the current school year, which is about $4.9 million less than the level recommended by Texas Education Agency.
A fund balance could also help the district weather any future cuts to education funding from the state, Superintendent Doug Killian said.
“We’ve got to get this financial monkey off of our back, and the only way I know to do that is to build up that optimum fund balance so we can ride through whatever the state issues are,” he said.
Tax ratification election
Even though in November voters rejected raising the maintenance and operations portion of the tax rate by 6 cents per $100 of property valuation, school board members have discussed calling an election to raise the tax rate by 13 cents.
In 2011, the average home value in Hutto ISD was $131,000, so the yearly tax increase would be $170.30, or $14.19 per month. The 13 cent increase is estimated to generate $1.7 million in local tax revenue, and would also draw about $1.2 million in state matching funds, according to district documents.
Killian said the district would have to wait to call a tax ratification election (TRE) until after receiving certified estimated property values, which happens at the end of April. He said the school board may schedule a TRE in August, but that they would discuss it further at future meetings.
If the tax increase is approved, some of the more than $1.2 million in cuts and fee increases the board approved would not be implemented in the 2012–13 school year.
The items that could be reinstated include a hall monitor position at the high school, transportation funding for the Legacy Early College Start program and two elementary music positions.
In total, the cuts eliminate 13 positions, although only one person was affected because some staff left for other employment, or the district found a different position for them within Hutto ISD.
The district offered an early resignation notification stipend to 30 employees in March.
Also, if the TRE passes, the district would forgo implementing a $100 extracurricular and co-curricular fee. In the 2011–12 school year the regular fee was $25 per student, $12.50 for students in the reduced lunch program and $2.50 for those who qualify for free lunches.
This is the second year Hutto ISD has made cuts to deal with less money coming from the state. In 2011, the board of trustees approved slashing the 2011–12 budget by $4.3 million.
To stay in the black, the board eliminated 68 staff positions, closed Veterans’ Hill Elementary and reduced campus budgets by 10 percent. This newly approved round of budget cuts will again reduce campus budgets and staffing.
Doug Gaul, president of the board of trustees, said the school board is worried about the quality of service the district delivers as it continues to make cuts to the budget.
“We’re requiring our employees to do more with less—less staff, less supplies,” he said.
Blake Hutchinson is a biology and physics teacher at Hutto High School. This is his second year to teach in the district, and he said he has noticed the impact of some of the budget cuts, such as fewer support staff and textbooks that stay on campus because students share instead of own them.
“It’s hard to assign things outside of school when you can’t guarantee the kid has Internet [access],” he said.
Hutchinson said he is worried about the potential some of the changes to the budget have to affect students, such as the $100 fee for participating in an extracurricular or co-curricular activity. About 47 percent of Hutto’s 5,650 students participate in the free or reduced lunch program, Ramos said.
“They may not want to talk about it at school, but they think, ‘We don’t have enough money for groceries, how am I going to pay for baseball?’” Hutchinson said.
The district is predicting 4 percent growth for the next school year, or about 225 new students, Ramos said. The district spends $6,527 per student, so the increase in enrollment will add about $1.5 million in additional costs.