Leander ISD Board of Trustees reviews proposed budget cuts, alternative scenarios

Leander Independent School District's 2022-23 budget will compensate for rising property values in Williamson County

Taxable values in the county are expected to rise by 38% for the 2022 tax year. Despite the increase, LISD says it does not realize additional revenues for operations. Rather, the district's Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cogburn detailed $7.2 million in budget cuts identified by administration. 

These cuts include a decrease in funding for major maintenance projects, bringing LISD's substitute teacher program in-house, redesigning bus routes and changes to the three-year-old PreK program, among other things. The district says these cuts will reflect a minimal impact to campuses and reductions in department operating budgets.  

The LISD Board of Trustees approved an amendment to the budget assumptions that lowers the Interest & Sinking (I&S) tax rate by five cents, and increases the Maintenance & Operation (M&O) tax rate by the same five cents. M&O funds are used for teacher salaries, programs and other operations costs, while the I&O funds can only be used to pay existing debt obligations. 

Moving the five cents from the I&S tax rate to the M&O tax rate would result in the following: 

  • LISD would face a $13 million deficit
  • All district employees would see a 2% pay increase
  • Minimum hourly wage would increase to $15/hour
  • Nearly 2-cent property tax rate reduction
  • Goal of $7 million in budget cuts

Cogburn provided the district with an alternative plan that included lowering the I&S by 13 cents, and increasing the M&O rate by 9 cents to give the board an idea of how shifting pennies makes a difference: 

  • LISD would face a $5 million deficit
  • All district employees would see a 2% pay increase
  • Teachers, nurses and counselors would see an additional 1% pay increase (for a total of 3%)
  • Minimum hourly wage would increase to $15/hour
  • 6-cent property tax rate reduction
  • $4 million in budget cuts

The district says this kind of tax rate management is possible due to the historic rise in property values in Williamson County. The overall tax rate could be reduced, but would require a Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election (VATRE). The LISD Board will ultimately decide the tax rate in August, to set the stage for a November election, says the district. 

"Our Team of 7 has asked a lot from the finance department to keep an adequate level of fund balance, ensure we continue to pay debt, lower the tax rate and keep forward-facing classroom positions," Board President Trish Bode said. "I do see a way forward to be responsible with taxpayer resources while looking at ways to streamline efficiencies. We will still need to look at reductions in the future. But, this is a solid place for us to be." 

LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing, Ed.D., says the district will move froward with plans to open the Early College High School and Virtual Learning Academy in Fall 2022.

Substitute staffing to be managed internally

LISD says it will end contact with ESS for the hiring and placement of substitute teachers to reduce costs. The Board approved the move to hire and onboard three positions to manage the program internally. Chief Human Resource Officer Karie Lynn McSpadden assures the efforts to make this transition will be as smooth as possible. Current substitute teachers have been informed by Human Resources and detailed any necessary next steps.

Student experience, vision and strategic plan

Superintendent Gearing shared a presentation with the Board of Trustees showing the path forward for LISD students through the district's Vision and Strategic Plan. The district says that Dr. Gearing is putting a focus on the importance of examining existing culture and how it formulates what LISD wants for "each student individually" as they "produce the most sought after creators of our future world." 

Part of Dr. Gearing's presentation to the Board included how the district will prepare its students for economic reality beyond their years at LISD. Dr. Gearing also provided a plan to create student learning profiles that highlight personal interests, hobbies, and more about each student.

LISD says Dr. Gearing assured the Board this was a preliminary examination into creating individualized learning plans. Conversations will continue as the concept takes shape.

Opioid abuse prevention & intervention plan

In light of the opioid crisis in the U.S., the district is implementing a plan to provide unassigned opioid antagonist medication on every campus. LISD says it is taking a two-pronged approach of prevention education and intervention to address the ongoing issue.

LISD says it is partnering with a local physician that will provide a standing order that will allow campus nurses and trained staff to administer Narcan during an opioid emergency event. This opioid medication known as naloxone (Narcan) acts immediately to stop the effects of the opioid when administered. The district aims to have Narcan available at every LISD campus by the beginning of the school year through a grant program with a Texas based organization. 

Regarding the district's prevention education, students K-8th grade receive lessons in drug use prevention. However, the Board shared interest in seeing that education expanded into high schools. 

Steps toward renewing District of Innovation plan

LISD says it is considering renewing its plan as a District of Innovation (DoI). The district has flexibility designing its academic calendar under the plan. Although other exemptions are allowed for a DoI, LISD plans to use the designation for its academic calendar only. The districts current DoI plan was adopted by the Board in 2018, and may not exceed five years. Chief of Staff Laurelyn Artebury, Ed.D., explained the renewal process and proposed timeline.  

Long-range planning committee

An update from the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee was provided to the Board. The committee is made up of administrators and board members who are tasked with creating a 10-year long-term plan to help address future needs. The committee has met four times since the beginning of the year. Their area of focus surrounded purpose and guidelines of maximizing facility utilization.

Existing hazardous bus routes to remain intact for 2022-23

LISD's hazardous bus routes plan for the following school year has been approved by the Board. Staff made its recommendation at the March 24 meeting, which does not add or take away from existing hazardous routes.

School districts are required state law to provide bus service to students living more than two miles from their assigned schools. In LISD, families living closer than two miles are within the "Not Eligible for Transportation Zone," or NETZone. The district says students within the NETZone are only provided bus service if their route to school is rated as ‘hazardous.' 

New instructional materials for 2022-23

The Board of Trustees also approved recommendations for the purchasing of new instructional materials for K-12th grade Health & PE, 6th grade social studies, advanced placement environmental science, marketing, nutrition and dietetics and Kinesiology I & II. The purchase amount totals $539,132, roughly $300,000 less than allocated, according to LISD.

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