During the Superintendent Report at the Nov. 14 Hays CISD board meeting, Superintendent Eric Wright said the district is facing a $7 million budget deficit as a result of an attendance shortfall during the 2021-22 school year.

“We are funded by our average daily attendance, and last year we were still in the pandemic, as we are now,” Wright told Community Impact. “[The state] made the decision not to fund us for the fifth and sixth [six-week period when] our attendance was around 90%.”

Prior to the pandemic, the district saw around 95%-96% attendance.

Schools are still facing lower than normal attendance records despite the fall season generally trending with the highest rates overall, Wright said. If the trend continues to decrease or remain at around 90%, the district may face another loss in revenue at the conclusion of the 2022-23 school year.

“We get caught in the way the funding works because it’s based on average daily attendance. We’re allotted a certain amount per student based on them being in school 100% of the time,” Chief Communication Officer Tim Savoy said. “If they’re only there 93% of the time, and you get 93% of that allotment, that adds up to a lot of money.”

To try and get ahead of the attendance slump, principals are creating short- and long-term incentives to entice students into the classrooms. Attendance specialists are also conducting outreach to those who are chronically absent, and the district is in the process of creating a mentorship program in the hopes of fostering connections among the students, Wright said.

A major wrench hitting schools across the state is that students must still quarantine for a certain number of days if they contract COVID-19, leading to inevitable absences.

District officials hope that during the upcoming 88th legislative session, changes can be made at the statewide level to provide funding to schools based on enrollment, not attendance.

“We have 22,300 students enrolled, and that’s how we staff with teachers,” Savoy said. “A teacher doesn’t get 93% of their salary for the year because the average attendance was 93%. They get 100%. The expenses are not prorated based on attendance.”

However, Savoy and Wright expressed the importance of the students, their education and well-being above all else.

The district has quantifiable data proving that not attending school, physically at least, has a detrimental effect on the mental, emotional and social well-being of the students, Savoy said.

The district has yet to make any budget cuts as a result of the revenue loss, and they also have more students enrolled than budgeted for, which they hope can help offset some of the loss.

"We still believe that we will have a lot more growth as the year progresses," Wright said.