Paradise ISD whittling away at unbalanced budget

By Jimmy Alford | Published Saturday, June 1, 2013

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Paradise ISD’s budget concerns are less worrisome than they were a week ago, but the board of trustees still has a long budget season ahead.

At a May 20 meeting, PISD Superintendent Monty Chapman went over preliminary budget numbers that showed the district heading into the 2013-2014 school year $450,000 in the hole. After some recalculations and some good news from the state, that number has changed to about a $300,000 deficit.

“It’s looking better than last week,” Chapman said. “Not a whole lot better, but a little better.”

Board president Homer Mundy indicated that no teaching positions will be cut to reduce the deficit. Chapman said the board wants to keep the student-teacher ratio as low as possible.

Much of the projected deficit in the budget came as a result of lower state funding and fewer students. PISD lost 23 students in 2012-2013 compared to the previous school year, and many of those were children with special needs, who garner more funding from the state. Chapman said the reduction in student population appears to be a natural shift brought on by families changing jobs and moving.

“When you’re losing kids, you have to try and make the staff match that – and we are trying not to do that with teaching positions,” Chapman said. “At some point if we lose more students we will have to do that, but I don’t see that happening. I think we’ll have a small growth pattern and not reduction in students.”

PISD has three job positions – a custodian, a special education aide and a secretary – that will not be filled. That will save the districts about $80,000, which leaves around $220,000 to make up for by Aug. 31 when the board has to adopt a new budget.

Besides those positions, the board is also looking at reductions in other personnel roles like librarians, nurses, and some aides, as well as cuts in other programs, or holding a tax rate election in the fall.

One likely scenario is using fund balance to make up the deficit. The district’s reserves of about $3.2 million represent between three and four months’ operating costs, giving them enough to make up the difference without falling below state-recommended levels.

“We are in very good shape,” Chapman said. “We planned well, and we’ve put money back. If we went out and bought something like a bus with fund balance, that is great. It’s a one-time cost. Say the negative to the budget will be $200,000 or $150,000. We would be OK using fund balance money for that. If we are going to do that, I’d prefer it pay for non-recurring costs.”

Chapman said it’s never a good idea to use fund balance on recurring costs like salaries or bills, because the money is not necessarily going to be there to pay those costs again the next year.

The board will meet once in June, twice in July and three times in August to finalize the budget. Chapman said it’s never easy developing an unbalanced budget. Paradise had to go through this last year when the board had to reduce spending by about $170,000.

“Last budget we used some attrition and we cut our supplies, travel and professional development budgets and contracted services,” Chapman said. “That also means we don’t have a lot we can trim in the regular budget to make up that difference this year.”

In 2011, PISD had a balanced budget, but when the legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education, money got tighter.

“We’ve seen this coming, and we’ve been making adjustments to keep close to balanced,” Chapman said. “The overall budget was more than $12 million three years ago and this year is just over $2 million less. We’ve had about a 15 percent reduction. That is federal, state and local everything. It feels a lot tighter.”

PISD has had to use what grant money it gets to make some general improvements and purchases like heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. While grants have helped, PISD doesn’t qualify for many, because Paradise’s student population is less than 40 percent low socioeconomic.

Chapman said while this year’s budget can be fixed, going forward Paradise still may have some hard choices to make.

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