School districts face second year of state budget cuts

Tomball ISD hires additional staff due to growth, while Magnolia ISD adapts to operating with less staff

Heading into the 2012-13 school year, Magnolia and Tomball ISDs are dealing with the second year of severe state budget cuts. With the state cutting $5.3 billion to public education in the 2011 legislative session, TISD lost $12.5 million in state funding for the biennium and $7.2 million of that will come out of the 2012-13 budget. MISD lost $12 million in state funding and split the cuts evenly between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

Although Tomball and Magnolia ISDs finalize their 2012-13 budgets in August, both districts' boards of trustees and administrative staff did extensive planning last summer to prepare for the cuts. Due to the pre-planning, there will not be any major changes facing the districts in the 2012-13 school year.

"If you look across the state at what districts are doing, some were not so aggressive last year with reductions and are having to reduce staff now," MISD CFO Erich Morris said. "We bit the bullet last year, so it helps us in moving forward this year. We're cautious moving into this year because of the unknown of what the legislature is going to do in the [2013 legislative] session."

Magnolia ISD

Because of the state budget cuts, MISD cut 124.5 teachers and support staff for the 2011-12 school year, but it will not have to make any staff reductions this year. Though the district was able to keep its teacher-to-student ratio relatively stable last year, the reduction in staff was felt in some of its special programs, Morris said.

Previous to the staffing cuts, each elementary school had its own music, art and physical education teacher. Now, these teachers are split between two schools, which means students spend less time in the specialized classes.

"That tops the list as the most immediate change that we had as far as personnel and what parents see, and we're watching that very carefully," Superintendent Todd Stephens said. "We don't want to see diminished effects of our fine arts program, and we hope the diminished time isn't going to take away from those programs. It's just something we had to do to adjust for the changing times."

Stephens emphasized the staffing cuts only affected the elementary schools—no cuts were made to special program staff at the secondary level.

The other significant change in staffing last year was moving each campuses' gifted and talented program teachers back into the classrooms. Previously, these teachers pulled GATE program students out of class for one-on-one sessions.

Although all of these staffing cuts were felt districtwide, Stephens said he is thankful the district did not have to cut any programs outright.

"All in all, we found some resilience and we did make the year work," he said. "Our real concern is if the state continues to make cuts, any other significant reductions are going to cut into things that would make our normal classrooms and programs look different, so we hope that won't be the case."

On a positive note for MISD staff, the board of trustees will look at giving all employees a general pay increase between 2 and 3 percent for the 2012-13 school year.

Tomball ISD

Although TISD's 2012-13 budget will look similar to last year's budget, the total budget will rise by 5.52 percent in large part due to the opening of Timber Creek Elementary and the addition of the 11th grade to Tomball Memorial High School.

"Of the increase, over 95 percent is related to increases in payroll for new staff and pay raises," CFO Jim Ross said.

TISD plans to hire 101 additional staff, including 48 teaching positions and 44 paraprofessionals. In addition, the board of trustees is looking at a 2.4 percent general pay raise to all employees, in order to remain competetive with neighboring districts.

With the increase in payroll costs, the district is looking at a total general fund budget of $86 million. The estimated revenue for 2012-13 from state funding and local taxes is $81.5 million. The $4.5 million gap will be made up through the district's fund balance.

"We're using funds we set aside a few years back that the board committed for opening new schools and operating costs to fund the deficit," Ross said.

The district is anticipating an enrollment growth of more than 4 percent for 2012-13. In comparison, MISD is expecting 1 percent student growth.

"Growth will give you some additional dollars, but what's tied to growth is additional expense, and the state is not fully funding us for the cost we have," Ross said. "The more we grow, the faster our deficit rises until something changes."

Ross said if the state continues to cut funding, over time the district may have to look at different cost-saving measures.

"Looking at the dollars we've lost with the cuts made in the last session—I've been doing this for 20 years and I've never seen the state send money back into the system once it's been taken out," Ross said. "We've already seen $5 billion in cuts, and I think we'll see that reduction, if not more, in the next session."



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