DISD's Latest Budget-Gut Guesstimates, and Central Admin Staffers to Get Buyout Offers

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Last night, Robert teased us all with the news that Lynn Moak, from Dallas ISD's lobbyist-consultant group Moak Casey & Associates, would be taking a seat before trustees this afternoon with an update from Austin on the Legislature's attempts to finesse away the state's budget shortfall.

Earlier estimates, you'll recall, suggested a $10 billion cut was on the way for state education spending, leaving DISD to cut as much as $238 million next year. Today, Moak told trustees, the Texas House and Senate have each been working on separate plans to shave off a few billions, to wildly different effect.

While Moak said the House is now estimating an $8 billion cut over the next two years, the Senate says it'll be able to take education cuts down to just $4 billion. For DISD, Moak told trustees, that amounts to a cut between $150 million and $86 mil. (Here's the PowerPoint presentation given to trustees.)

The House is set to consider its budget bill, HB 1, a week from Friday, and the Senate would vote on its own bill in mid-April. At that point, reps from both houses would meet in a conference committee to try and smooth out their differences -- though, as Moak told trustees, "the idea of compromising between 4 billion and 8 billion with everything else that is on the table is a significant problem."

"A lot of people are predicting this is where you end up in special session."

If that were to happen, Moak said, a special session held after the Lege wraps at the end of May would run right up against DISD's deadline for coming up with a budget for the next school year.

But why the huge chasm between the House and Senate estimates? Moak says the Senate's been more enthusiastic with its "revenue-raising activity," digging up places to save money by restructuring the budget -- shifting some payouts a couple days so they're caught in another fiscal year, or taking a little from the rainy day fund.

"You can get to $10-and-a-half billion just out of payment delays, some rainy day money and some other funny money that is around in the system, if you're willing to reach for it," Moak said. "Right now the senate has said, in effect, they're willing to reach for it. The House has said they're not."

"To get any better than that, you have to be talking about a tax bill. And if there's one thing people are not talking about in Austin today, it's a tax bill."

When Moak mentioned the state's Rainy Day Fund is built on oil and gas production taxes Nancy Bingham hit on a possible fix for the whole mess, asking Moak, "If we produce more, what happens?"

"If you produce more, you get more rev ..." Moak began, before she cut him off.

"I think it's out there, folks, they're just not drilling for it!"

The conversation wrapped with a swap of lamentations that the troubles DISD is facing this year aren't even the worst we'll see.

Edwin Flores pointed out that the budget picture doesn't get any sunnier two years from now, or two years after that, and that a lot of the action at the Lege is just plugging the holes. "As Dr. Hinojosa said, there is a new reality," Flores said. "The reality is a decreasing reality."

"No technology funds, reducing language arts and reading, yet requiring the test and other implementations," Carla Ranger wondered out loud, "Have any of them just announced that we are doing this so that we can destroy public education in Texas?"

"They have encouraged us to do more with less," Hinojosa said.

After that, the supe turned the talk to another round of buyouts to help minimize layoffs around the district next year -- this time for all the non-contract employees not covered by the first buyout offer for teachers and principals. "I was a little hesitant to do this, but I have been convinced," Hinojosa told the board. The district committed to paying $6.2 million in the first round of buyouts, which Hinojosa said will save DISD $45 million next year.

DISD human resources director Claudia Rodriguez proposed a plan a lot like the last buyout: 15 percent of their base salary, up to $10,000. Even though they're at-will employees without contracts, DISD staff told trustees that offering buyouts would save the district from legal cost of grievances, or having to cover unemployment, that can come with layoffs.

Jack Lowe, suggested administration staff should get a lower buyout than teachers did, because they've got skills that could carry over to plenty of other employers. A mechanic or a handyman that takes a buyout from DISD, Lowe suggested -- "he can come and work for us." "I just think it's different with these folks than it is with teachers or principals where, that's what they do. They can't practice their trade as teachers or principals anywhere else," Lowe said. "The folks that leave this thing, they can get a job doing what they're doing, lots of 'em, somewhere." He suggested a buyout of 10 percent of an employee's base salary, or a $7500 cap, but the board wouldn't go for it.

Rodriguez suggested capping the total for the buyouts at $3 million, but Eric Cowan, Flores and other trustees said they also wanted yet another round of buyouts for teachers, after hearing from some who missed out the first time.

The board settled on a $1.8 million round of buyouts for non-contract employees, leaving $2 million for another round of buyouts for teachers at some other point in the future. They'll take a vote on that at next Thursday's board meeting, and, Rodriguez said, the two-week window for district employees and non-contract school staff could start Monday, April 4.

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