District releases budget update

District releases budget update

A look inside the Duncanville ISD budget.

Headlines across the Dallas Fort-Worth area include a number of school district budget crises and the $10 billion state education budget shortfall. So where does Duncanville ISD stand with these budget issues, and how will the state’s education funding problems impact our students?

Our financial status going into the 2011-2012 budget planning process is not currently as challenging as many Texas school districts. “We began reducing expenditures in 2007, with a number of cost-saving initiatives to the tune of nearly $10 million over the past four years,” said Superintendent Dr. Alfred Ray. “So we have been preparing for this day.” Those initiatives have included the reduction of more than 60 positions through attrition over a two-year period, no teacher or staff raises in 2008-2009, and various other budget reductions. “We’ve had to make some very tough decisions over the years, but even more difficult decisions lie ahead,” said Ray.

The district has also spent the past four years focused on building an adequate general fund balance, as recommended by TEA guidelines. Through strong fiscal management, the district has realized enough cost savings to increase the general fund balance by $18 million. “Although our planning has certainly helped us in the short term, we cannot continue to maintain current levels of service for the long term,” said Ray. The current 2010-2011 budget includes a $1.387 million fund balance allocation for overdue facility maintenance and technology projects.

Since 2007, all salary increases for teachers and staff have been funded through cost-saving initiatives. The district will be required to cut another $2 million from the budget in order to consider raises in 2011-2012. As a district positioned in the bottom third in dollars received per student from the state, our ability to retain and recruit quality staff members who can support the district’s focus on engaging student learning experiences will become increasingly more challenging.

Eighty-three percent of the district’s budget is spent on teacher and staff salaries, and nine percent is spent on contracted services such as utilities. Any cut in funding will greatly affect our ability to maintain current staffing allocations, current program offerings, and adequately meet the needs of our students.

Duncanville ISD has joined 480 other Texas school districts in urging legislators to make education a priority during the 82nd Legislative Session. The Make Education a Priority campaign calls for a commitment to fix the broken system of school finance and properly fund education. We believe there should be more funding equity among districts and that the current target revenue system has not only failed to resolve these inequities, it has made them worse.

Additionally, there are mandates within the target revenue system that require certain funds to be spent a certain way. This does not allow a local district and its board the opportunity to determine how to best allocate money based on local needs. We believe there should be standards in the level of service and support a district provides, but for the state to mandate dollar amounts rather than a level of service limits collaborative opportunities within a district.

The current funding system limits the flexibility of local districts in setting a local school district tax rate above $1.04. Prior to HB1, school districts could set maintenance and operations tax rates based on the operating needs of the district up to $1.50. In 2005, the state legislature dramatically reduced the maximum allowance property tax cap for school districts with the belief that other imposed taxes (business tax, margins tax, and others) would replace that funding source.

The debt service tax rate is set based on bond elections held in a school district. Bond elections primarily focused on buildings and technology — tangible items that taxpayers could physically see within schools. Since the passage of HB1, districts must hold Tax Rate Elections (TRE) in order to raise the maintenance and operations tax rate above $1.04. Only about 30% of school districts in Texas have held tax rate elections since 2006.

Through a TRE, districts are asking the public to fund the increasing cost of day-to-day operations. This includes, but is not limited to, salaries, supplies, electricity, water, gas, phone, fuel, etc. These costs are similar to the basic needs of a household. It is more important than ever for citizens to be informed regarding how their school system is funded. Elections are no longer only about adequate facilities, but more importantly about the maintenance of the facilities already in place and attracting quality staff members who are the most important influence on the quality of learning.

Read Superintendant Alfred Rays Budget blog