The Liberty Hill ISD board of trustees approved a compensation plan for fiscal year 2024-25 allocating one-time stipends of $500 for all staff members and increased insurance benefits at a June 3 special meeting.

The compensation package comes as the district projects its largest budget shortfall in recent years at $8.5 million. District officials also proposed raising employee salaries at a later date if the board calls a voter-approved tax rate election, or VATRE, in November.

“It’s difficult news to share,” LHISD Chief Financial Officer Rosanna Guerrero said during the board’s budget workshop. “As hard as we're working to try to cut and try to freeze and try to do everything we can in a manageable way, it still feels out of our control.”

Current situation

The district will provide all teachers and staff members with one-time stipends of $500 and increase stipends for special education staff by $500 next school year. Additionally, the district will contribute $445 to employee insurance plans compared to $408 the year prior, which would provide full coverage at no cost to staff members, said Kristin Coulter, LHISD chief of strategic planning and partnerships.

District employees also receive a salary step increase with each year of experience gained.

The $2.5 million increase to the district’s compensation plan includes the following expenses:
  • $1,369,160 in increased contributions to employee benefits
  • $782,500 in one-time stipends to all staff
  • $256,965 in salary step increases
  • $111,750 in special education stipend increases
Also of note

If voters were to approve a tax rate increase in November upon the board calling a VATRE, the district could raise staff salaries by 2%, totaling $956,643 for teachers, librarians and nurses, or $1,611,000 for all staff members, Coulter said.

District officials discussed several potential tax rate increases at a May 6 special meeting. The state has compressed the district’s tax by $0.375 since 2019 while the basic allotment of state funding per student has remained unchanged, Guerrero said.

Raising the tax rate could help the district pay staff more competitively and build its fund balance, Guerrero told Community Impact. If a VATRE is not called for November, the district’s fund balance will be reduced to $14 million at the start of next fiscal year and is projected to be completely depleted by 2026, according to district documents.

The context

The district’s projected budget shortfall increased from $5.3 million to $8.5 million for next year as LHISD will collect $3.2 million less than anticipated in property taxes and see a $2.1 million reduction in state funding, Guerrero said. The district has also faced a state-set cap on its fast-growth allotment and the loss of federal Medicaid funding for special education students while it experiences rising expenses from opening two new schools, Superintendent Steven Snell said.

At a May 20 meeting, district officials proposed cutting positions, and campus and department budgets after receiving recommendations from staff members. The proposed cost-saving measures include $1 million in cuts to new, unfilled positions across the district that were approved by the board to address growth, Guerrero said.

Officials proposed cutting campus budgets by $190,000, including reductions to instructional coaches, library services and professional development, and $209,000 to department budgets, Guerrero said. Additionally, the district has increased class sizes at every grade level, she said.

“We have to balance any cuts we can possibly make with the effect it's going to have on our teachers and staff morale and staff retention,” Snell said in an interview with Community Impact. “This year alone, Liberty Hill had more teachers leaving the profession than I've probably seen combined in the last five years I've been here.”

Going forward

LHISD is exploring ways to decrease fuel, utilities, energy and property insurance costs, which have increased due to inflation, Guerrero said. At the June 3 meeting, the board approved conducting an efficiency audit that will review the district’s fiscal management and share the results with community members, Guerrero said.

The board will further discuss any proposed position cuts and whether to call a VATRE at its next meeting June 17, school board President Megan Parsons said.