On second vote, Leander ISD narrowly approves $379,845,079 budget

(Screengrab from the June 18 Leander ISD online meeting)
(Screengrab from the June 18 Leander ISD online meeting)

(Screengrab from the June 18 Leander ISD online meeting)

With no one knowing what education will look like in August, Leander ISD’s board of trustees on June 18 needed two votes to narrowly approve a $379,845,079 general fund budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

After the first vote failed 4-3, trustee Jim Mackay changed his vote to approve the budget with trustees Trish Bode, Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia and Pam Waggoner.

Citing an estimated $21,000,327 budget deficit, Grace Barber-Jordan, Elexis Grimes and Aaron Johnson voted no to both motions.

“I’ve never had a superintendent bring such a large deficit budget,” said Barber-Jordan, who was elected to the board in 2001.

LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing said he stood by the budget creation that he oversaw. He said the budget deficit was necessary to maintain the high level of education services that LISD families have come to expect.

The budget reflects a 5.44% increase in expenditures over the final $360,232,357 budget for FY 2019-20.

According to LISD CFO Elaine Cogburn, the increase in the budget was due to several factors that included the implementation of full-day pre-K instruction in August, $15 million in new positions, a $1 million increase to the health insurance fund and a one-time 2% payment—in lieu of permanent raises—to all LISD employees.

During earlier budget talks, the deficit had been higher, prompting trustees to direct staff to provide budget alternatives with smaller deficits. The bulk of the deficit reduction in the approved budget came from eliminating $1,706,496 in noncritical maintenance projects, $742,546 in new positions and $662,514 in travel, according to LISD documents.

Johnson said that current and future deficits, which had been forecast in previous meetings, were “unsustainable.” He went further by saying that staff had failed to address his request to look at “structural issues that drive our perpetual deficits.”

The $21,000,327 budget deficit will be covered by the district’s fund balance. After adding the surplus from the FY 2019-20 budget and addressing the FY 2020-21 budget deficit, Cogburn estimated the general fund will contain $147,348,113.

Cogburn said the budget will likely change, and trustees may need to make amendments as the year progresses.

“This is a budget we will be monitoring on a monthly basis, if not more frequently,” Cogburn said. “There are a lot of unknowns in this budget.”

Trustees also approved a $14,839,083 budget for child nutrition services and $112,818,330 budget for debt service.

In late August or September, trustees will revisit plans for a proposed lower tax rate after the Texas Education Agency updates taxation rules, according to Cogburn.

The proposed tax rate of $1.4162 reflects a small drop from the FY 2019-20 rate of $1.4375. The maintenance and operations rate accounts for all of the drop, from $0.97 to the proposed $0.9487. The proposed sinking debt rate will remain the same at $0.4675.

If the lower rate is approved in August or September, most homeowners in LISD will still see an increase in their property taxes due to a rise in appraised value.

FY 2020-21 begins July 1.
By Brian Perdue
Brian Perdue is the editor of the Lake Travis-Westlake and Northwest Austin editions of Community Impact Newspaper. A native of Virginia's Appalachian Mountains, he has been a journalist since 1992, living and working in Virginia, Washington D.C., Hawaii's Big Island, Southern California and Florida before moving to Austin in 2019.


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