Remember back in late April the board approved a tentative budget with a $62.4 million deficit but asked for preparation of a second budget reducing furlough days from five to three and not cutting media paraprofessionals in elementary schools.
As a result, a new budget proposal, Alternative C, was created, to be balanced with $7.1 million taken from reserves in addition to $21.5 million previously shifted from the fund — thus reducing the reserve to only about $70 million, barely enough for one month’s operation of the school system.
Fast forward to last Thursday’s board meeting. Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa listened to the members discuss budget issues, as the Journal reported. Then he told them he would be “willing to reluctantly accept Alternative C with the full understanding that it will put us in a very dangerous place.”
Whereupon, when the question was put to a vote, it failed, 3-4, with David Banks, Alison Bartlett, vice chairman David Morgan and Tim Stultz opposing. It marked the first time in anyone’s memory that an annual budget was rejected by a school board. At first blush, this might seem to be a positive development, assuming the board majority has some ideas of how to come up with non-existent money or cut more jobs — or what?
Banks, predictably, dusted off his plan to retain all elementary parapros, limit furlough days to two and not increase class sizes — all of which would add about $28.5 million to the $62.4 million deficit. However, Hinojosa’s warning about reaching the danger level of reserve funds apparently failed to ring any alarm.
Morgan had a variation on the theme: just restore the parapros in the elementary schools. Alison Bartlett made no suggestions. But Stultz spoke up plainly when asked by Chairman Scott Sweeney where further cuts would come from. Since 90 percent of the budget is salaries and benefits, that’s where “a majority” of the cuts would have to be made, Stultz said. Then Sweeney wanted to know if Stultz would support “about $54 million reduction in salaries and benefits across the board?” Replied Stultz: “We’re already facing that for future budgets. The time, unfortunately, is here.” Sounds like yes?
That would mean slashing about 700 jobs, doubling the 350 that Hinojosa has recommended be cut, most of them through attrition. Obviously, another 350 job cuts would mean laying off or terminating staff, teachers and other personnel. Would this board majority be willing to take such a step even in the face of a huge deficit?
Now the board is coming down to bullet-biting time. They have another month to get this budget done, according to Mike Addison, chief financial officer of the school district. “We’re in overtime now,” he told the Journal. So it’s back to the drawing board once again.
The question is: can this board come up with a better plan than what was voted down last week?