That very subject came up last night at the first DISD Budget Town Hall Meeting held at Walnut Hill Elementary, where school district staffers, principals and board members far outnumbered parents. (There were, maybe, 10 people in the audience not employed by the district.) Chief Financial Officer Larry Throm, who ran the PowerPoint, said, hey, whatever you think of how the district's gonna spent $1.474 billion in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, at least it isn't going to lay off up to 400 employees and reduce service hours. "We're right where we need to be," he said.
Well, yes and no. Yes, the budget presented to the school board last week is balanced, but it doesn't allow for teacher and principal raises, nor does it restore money to the reserves depleted by the budget crisis of '08. And, with no new revenue expected this year or in coming years, well, the district ain't sure how it'll pay for people to work in or deliver food and other services to the dozen or so new schools expected to be built in the next three years.
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But other than that ...
But the school board members in attendance -- Edwin Flores, Jack Lowe and newly elected Cliffdweller Eric Cowan -- have no intention of asking voters for a tax hike any time soon. Said Flores, that's because as new schools open, other "underpopulated" campuses will likely be shuttered. Flores says the district has assembled a task force to study which schools could and should be closed. To which Lowe added, "I'd love to have more funds. But I don't think we could pass a tax increase, and I'm not into butting my head against stumps. I love teachers. We pay pretty well compared to other districts. I don't think [a tax hike] is in the cards."
Throm spent most of his presentation talking not about how money's spent, but how DISD expects "no new additional dollars" in coming years. He referred to the fact the district gets relatively little in state funds compared to other districts; he referred to DISD's $5,249 in target revenue -- a figure based upon the number of students enrolled and their average daily attendance, and one of the state's lowest -- as a "travesty." I ran into a former school board candidate after the presentation, who said the town hall amounted to little more than the district "whining" about how it doesn't have enough money.
On the plus side, the meeting ran far shorter than its allotted 90-minute run time.