Though the overall effect that the coronavirus pandemic will have on Katy ISD remains unknown, district officials said they hope to pass a balanced budget for the 2021-22 school year.

KISD Chief Financial Officer Christopher Smith presented a kickoff for the budget process for fiscal year 2021-22 during a Jan. 19 board meeting. The budget process will continue over the coming months.

First and foremost, Smith said the district hopes to maintain a balanced budget in the coming year that includes offering competitive compensation, opening Haskett Junior High and prioritizing student safety. The district is projecting average enrollment increases for the year, he said.

The district also will watch the Texas State Legislature session closely, Smith said. The legislative session kicked off Jan. 12.

“With COVID and with a tough budget, there’s a lot to watch there in Austin,” he said.

There are several unknowns at the state and local levels, Smith said, since the pandemic is ongoing and the local economy faces continued uncertainty, Still, at the state level, he said, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s recent revenue budget estimate was more optimistic than expected.

“It’s going to be tough, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought,” Smith said.

“We were expecting a Category 5 hurricane, and it’s just going to be a 2," Board Vice President Lance Redmon said.

Also during the meeting, board members approved the purchase of 18 portable classroom buildings for five KISD campuses. The portable buildings will support the enrollment growth and special programs at the five campuses, said Mark Tiedt, executive director for maintenance and operations.

The total cost of the portable buildings, which will be covered by funds from the district's 2017 bond, is $1,231,722, Tiedt said.

According to the proposal, five portable classroom buildings will go to Paetow High School; four to Adams Junior High; four to Bryant Elementary; four to Leonard Elementary; and one to McElwain Elementary.

The portables are expected to be delivered and set up in June, which should mean that they will be ready for use at the start of the 2021-22 school year, Tiedt said.

Additionally, Katy ISD board members approved a resolution to extend the time during which employees can take two weeks of paid leave if they are suffering from the coronavirus or caring for a family member who is, a policy that mirrors the leave offered to employees through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expired Dec. 31, 2020.

KISD General Counsel Justin Graham said that after the federal government did not extend the act beyond December, the district’s administration and human resources department moved to step in.

“[We] took a hard look at that and said, ‘This is something that’s benefiting our employees,’” Graham said. “We don’t want our employees to come to work if they are sick. We want them to be able to support their families if they are sick."

As with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the resolution approved by the board allows employees to take up to two weeks of paid leave if they are suffering from the coronavirus or caring for a family member who is, Graham said.

The policy has been extended until June 30 and is not available for employees who already utilized the program in 2020.

Although the district will now be fronting the cost for employees who do take the time off, KISD Superintendent Dr. Ken Gregorski said the cost will mainly be just time and workload for the person covering for the employee who is out. There will be a more direct cost if a teacher takes the time off, he said, because the district then pays for a substitute, which runs about $100 per day.