Budgetary cost savings strategies unveiled

Along with recapping where projects funded by the tax ratification election are, members of the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Council also reviewed budgetary cost savings for Ector County Independent School District.
Interim Superintendent Jim Nelson said they were mostly Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Howard’s ideas from when she was a principal and superintendent previously.
Employee raises are in place, roof packages are in the works and work is taking place; buses should arrive in March, and in April, secured entrances are scheduled.
Plans are to present an update to community groups Odessans for Education, the political action committee that supported the TRE, and visit them at the end of the school year, Communications Officer Mike Adkins said.
After a couple of years, the roofs will be paid for and the cost of buses will be reduced.
Chief Financial Officer David Harwell said the projected increase in average daily attendance for the next three years is a 572 increase for each of those years. Average daily attendance is a snapshot of how many students attend school in a district and is a factor in how much funding districts receive from the state.
Average taxable property value growth, based on 2017-18 is 5 percent and 3 percent payroll growth per year is projected, Harwell said.
Nelson said the district has been able to replenish the fund balance because of its personnel shortages.
The board has said they want administration to propose a raise every year, Nelson said, but a percentage has not yet been agreed upon.
Howard said there is still a lot of deferred maintenance.
Harwell presented a strategy for budgetary cost savings strategies including:

  • Staffing for all departments in the same manner as for campuses: Timing, strictly needs based, by review and elimination of positions deemed outside of the core mission of student education.
  • Use of assistant and aide positions for serving multiple needs in areas, rather than just one.
  • Reassignment of existing staff to needed positions that are currently vacant. Removing budgets for vacant positions that are not needed and removing unused vacancies.
  • Evaluation and elimination of software redundancies, using software that will do the same work for less money and removing unused or marginally used software.
  • Funneling of all existing and new budget requests to a timely top-level review for need.
  • Capital outlay funding based strictly on replacement schedules known and approved in advance of the fiscal year for inclusion in the budget.

Critical review of budget increases requested after the start of the fiscal year, based strictly on an advanced need beyond the funding in place, fund balance designation from the prior year, or searching for additional areas of reduction to fund the request within existing approved budgets.
In other discussion:

  • Property tax caps were mentioned. According to a newsletter on Texas Senate news, taxing entities, including local school districts, would have to get permission from voters to raise property taxes more than 2.5 percent annually under identical legislation filed in both chambers Thursday.

Currently, taxing entities can increase taxes up to 8 percent a year before voter approval is needed, the newsletter said.

  • Nelson said there also is a bill in the works to give every teacher a $5,000 raise. He said a better way to do this is raising the basic student allotment, which grows with the student population.

“This is another effort by Austin to make local decisions there,” Nelson said.
He noted that a lot of bills get filed during a legislative session. Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, feels strongly that this is the wrong way to go, Nelson said.
He added that the $5,000 could only be for teachers.
“It’s just an idea whose time has not come,” Nelson said.
The good news, though, is that there also is a legislative focus on property tax relief and the school finance formula.

  • Howard said the Texas Association of School Boards salary study is ongoing.
  • The district will be working with Planning for Practitioners on strategic planning starting with the school board on March 7, Howard said.
  • Nelson said a demographic study is coming up for which the district will send out a request for proposals.

The Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Council was formed to ensure that funds from the tax ratification election are appropriated correctly. Members include:

  • Mariann Abalos Bagley, community volunteer.
  • Chris Cole, SouthWest Bank.
  • David Duree, partner in assurance services at Weaver.

Jacob Stiles, businessman.

  • Monica Vasquez Tschauner, Director of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
  • Dawn Weeks, co-pastor at Connection Christian Church.
  • Chris Wray, State Farm insurance agent.
  • Lisa Wyman, credit union officer at Complex Community Federal Credit Union.