As the Eanes ISD board of trustees prepares to adopt its fiscal year 2024-25 compensation plan in May and budget in June, a multimillion budget shortfall is projected, and the district’s middle school Latin course and part-time fine arts director position are at risk of being cut.

Chief Human Resources Officer Laurie Lee and Chief Financial Officer Chris Scott presented the board with information on the shortfall during the regular board meeting April 23.

The breakdown

Lee said, like EISD, many other neighboring districts are looking at budget shortfalls as they adopt salary increases. Round Rock ISD recently adopted a 1% increase, and Pflugerville ISD approved a 2% increase.

“I think it’s really important when we look back at our 2022-23 and our 2023-24 compensation, when you add those, it’s about a 9.5% increase,” Lee said. “I feel like we were very competitive, and we know that during those times, we did not have the [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funds that other districts had.”

Scott said with his recommended 2% salary increase, the EISD budgeted shortfall—or what the board will vote on—is about $3.3 million, and its projected shortfall—or where the district is expected to actually be at the end of the year—is about $2.3 million.

With a 3% increase, Scott said these shortfalls would be $4.1 million and $3.1 million, respectively.

In response to trustee Ellen Balthazar, Scott said if EISD were to not have a budget shortfall, about 35 to 40 full-time equivalents, or full-time employees, would be lost. Both the 2% and 3% increases project five FTE losses in FY 2024-25 and FY 2025-26, and zero in FY 2026-27.

“Unfortunately, the ways that you cut the budget as significant as you’re looking at to bring ourselves to balance, that is going to cause a lot of discomfort for a lot of people,” Scott said. “Those are things that we don’t want to do unless we have to do them. When we will know whether or not we have to do them, in my opinion, is in the spring of 2025. The Legislature will be meeting again. As you’re well aware, the Legislature hasn’t updated the school finance system since 2019. We’ve been making it work, but it’s getting harder and harder to make it work.”

In their own words

As the district prepares for a shortfall, Superintendent Jeff Arnett said EISD plans to phase out its Latin program at Hill Country and West Ridge Middle Schools due to declining enrollment, and the part-time fine arts director position—held by Kerry Taylor, who is retiring in May—will not be replaced at this time.

“Eanes ISD and many other Texas public schools are not impervious to a lack of funding,” Arnett said. “As we begin to experience the shortfalls locally, we are cautiously making incremental adjustments to minimize expenses and to be more efficient. ... While we are facing a deficit, we are not slashing programs or eliminating large numbers of staff. However, student and staff attrition do present an opportunity to streamline the budget if possible, even if temporarily until we find a long-term solution.”

Chief Communication Officer Claudia McWhorter later clarified to Community Impact that hiring decisions and program changes are administrative decisions, and the board does not vote on them.

However, over a dozen parents and students spoke during the public comment period regarding these adjustments.

“I know we’re not losing our programs, and I know because of budget considerations we’re not renewing the position of the fine arts director, but whenever things get sort of inched out that way to arts people, we know what it’s about, and we’re super sensitive to that,” said Andrea Ginder, the parent of a Latin student. “Schools are in the business of education. Arts and language are education, and I understand the precarious financial position of the schools because of our state government. ... When you discontinue the one director of fine arts while retaining several others in other programs, you are saying that these students and their passions are less important.”