On Tuesday, they met again, picking at the details of a budget months in the works.
Part of their concern was that this budget, as presented, contained funding elements that they thought might get them into financial trouble in the future.
Trustee Gabriel Hinojosa said, “What about next year?
“What about two years from now?
“We have all these band instruments, teacher raises and insurance... We may have money this year... but two or three years from now, are we going to be laying teachers off just to give them a raise for one year?
“It sounds good for one year, but in two years, what are we going to do when we don’t have the money...? We cannot raise taxes because we already went up to $1.17.”
The proposed budget is based on a tax rate of $1.17 per $100 property valuation for operations of the district and $0.30189 to repay debt. This is an overall decrease from last year of eight cents.
Question of the note
Trustee James Bennett was also concerned about the purchase of the note.
“If we borrow this $2.5 million to pay back over 10 years, and we spend the bulk of it – maybe not all of it but a lot of it the first year, what do we do for buses, teacher pay raises and et cetera in the coming years?”
Trustee Edward Polasek added, “We have no room to grow after voting to get the $1.17.”
Carole Estes, district business manager, reminded trustees that it is difficult to know what additional funding sources will come along next year or what funds will come from the state. She said they base their budget on this year’s information.
Seven cents of the $1.17 proposed tax rate would go towards repaying the note at about $250,000 per year. She also calculated that every penny above $1.10 generates $38,526 for the district.
Superintendent Dr. Brett Belmarez added that next year, the district could see more money coming from the state if the district’s enrollment continues to climb.
“With each enrollment, those numbers go up,” he said. “That is about the only way you get new money.
“Fortunately, we have been able to keep doing that.”
Then there is the question posed by Trustee Troy Hughes about a recent hire to the district.
“The band assistant director — is that position funded?” he asked.
“It is funded at the paraprofessional level, and this year’s hire is a professional,” said Belmarez.
Hughes said, “It was my understanding that we have hired a band assistant director. So, is that a proposed item in the future or has that already been budgeted for?
“Because I am not sure why we hired an individual when we have not approved this tax rate, and it is not in the upcoming budget.”
Estes explained that they have to have employees in place by the beginning of school.
“We do have to plan for school to start, so we do use our proposed budgeted numbers to plan for the next year,” she said. “You have to have a place to start.”
Hughes said, “My concern is we have hired this individual, and the budget has not been approved, and now we have to possibly go to this individual and tell him he may not be an employee of this district.”
Hughes said that this is the position into which the administration placed the board.
“But, yet, it is the board’s fault this individual is going to have to step down.”
Budget will determine salaries
Belmarez said that all of the salaries, for every teacher and staff employee, is based upon the assumption that the board is going to approve the budget.
“We assume that a budget is going to be approved,” he said. “We have 120 (employees) who all kind of have promises right now, and we assume a budget is going to be approved.
“We are making everybody a promise that we are not sure of right now until a budget is approved.”
Hughes countered, saying, “But you are also making a threat as well... You are also casting information to the newspaper that we may have to terminate staff as well.”
Is $1.10 an option?
Trustees continued to question the budget, asking whether it was wise to go to the $1.17 rate or go lower and adopt a $1.10.
Hughes even questioned if it was possible to go to the $1.17 rate but not purchase the $2.5 million note.
“Can we not take the maintenance and operation portion up to the $1.17 without entering into a maintenance tax note and forgo repaying $2.5 million over 10 years?” he asked.
Belmarez responded, “What you would forgo is $2.5 million.”
He added that the administration was recommending purchasing the note because of the low interest rates right now. Under questioning, Belmarez confirmed that this could be done next year, but there was no guarantee that the rates would remain at this historic low.
The trustees will need to make a decision on the budget by the end of the month.
Only one budget
Several trustees also questioned whether the district had a balanced budget at the lower $1.10 rate that would not include the seven cents for the note.
Belmarez said they did not because for the past seven board budget meetings they have been working under the assumption that the trustees were agreeable to the $1.17 amount.
Tuesday was the second time the board has met with approving the budget and tax rate on its agenda. Last week, the board met but also failed to get the votes necessary to pass the budget and tax rate.
Hughes even offered the proposal of a tax rate midway between the two amounts discussed. His $1.13 proposal received no second — so no vote was taken on it.
This past week, residents were given a chance to speak to the board because this was considered a hearing on the proposed budget.
Feelings were mixed in the audience about what the board should do.
But one man, an employee of the district, expressed concern about how all of this was being handled.
Steve Batchelor, district transportation director, said that he grew up in the district and has children going there.
“Over my years, I have worked with every kind of mix and match imaginable of school board people,” he said during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“They all come for different reasons.
“I think when the trustees get here and take that seat, their basic and most important responsibility is to make sure our kids get a good education — the best we can give them.
“All of this fussing and fighting... for people like me on the outside, this looks like a big gaggle.
“I grew up with most of you guys. I know what kind of men you are.
“It bothers the people that love this district and work here and are trying to do the same thing y’all are trying to do.
“I don’t care if y’all like Dr. (Belmarez).
“I don’t care about personal agendas.
“What we want from you is the truth.
“I want to know why the board motioned to approve this tax rate and budget a few weeks ago and a few days later changed their mind with no reason or explanation.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.