Education
5:04 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Q&A: Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez Talks Budget Cuts

Round Rock Superintendent Jesus Chavez sent a letter to staff yesterday warning of looming budget cuts.  The letter estimates that RRISD, a  school district with the state's second highest rating of "recognized", will lose between $43- and $73 million in state funding. That has the district preparing for up to $60 million in cuts.

Chavez spoke to us today about their budget situation.

KUT News: You are facing some serious reductions in state funding.

Jesus Chavez: We've revised the number and approach we're taking to cutting our budget because of the House Bill 1 state budget that was presented a couple weeks ago.

We were expecting a $4 billion to $5 billion shortage at the state level, and this preliminary budget has a $10 billion shortage to public education.  It's twice what I think people were expecting as far as cuts to education.

We understand that this is a beginning point. Our hopes are that they use a portion of the Rainy Day Fund at the state level to bring these numbers down and not cut as much, although it's going to be a significant cut to all districts across the state.

KUT News: By how much are you going to reduce your budget?

Chavez: As we look at the new numbers, we're estimating a shortage of about $60 million to $65 million in our district. We happen to have a good fund balance, so we are working our board to think about using a portion of fund balance. Initially, we were thinking about $10 million. That number may have to come up to about $20 million. So a direct cut to budgets across the district would be about a $45 million cut.

KUT News: How big is your fund balance?

Chavez: We have estimated that we have $31 million in excess of what is recommended that one carry. The total amount is $200 million in fund balance.

KUT News: Wow, that's almost twice the size of Austin ISD's fund balance for a district that is half the size.

Chavez: We have approached our budget in a conservative manner. We have been saving dollars every year.

The other fortunate thing for Round Rock, which is one of the unfair things people point to in the school finance system, is that we wound up to be at a higher target revenue (a per-student funding level guaranteed by the state) than other school districts. That's the reason you see some of these lower target revenues. You think of Hutto, Taylor, and others around us that are at a $4,800 target revenue compared to my $5,900 target revenue.

KUT News: Where will you find $45 million in cuts?

Chavez: All budgets across the district are going to be impacted. Not only in the operational budgets, which are the dollars that different departments are given to operate during the year, but it's also going to impact the number of positions they'll be able to carry next year.  They won't carry as much.

We are cutting positions at the central office. We will be looking at cutting positions at some of the support service areas as well like some of auxiliary services: maintenance, housekeeping, transportation.

Unfortunately, for this significant cut, we are also having to look at cutting some at the school level as well. Here I'm talking about teachers and other school personnel.

KUT News: How many teaching positions might you eliminate?

Chavez: It really is too early to be specific. Keep in mind that at the state level, those [budget] numbers are not going to be finalized until the end of May when the legislature approves the state budget. But we can make some estimates.

We encourage our representatives and our senators to use a portion of the Rainy Day Fund. If you were to ask me, 'How much should they use?' They need to use $4.5 billion.

I understand they have to leave something in there. It's projected to be about $9.5 billion. So let's use about half of it then for the state deficit that we face.

Remember, this is not only a situation that schools are facing. Higher ed is facing cuts. Health and public services are facing cuts, as well as all of the other state agencies. Whatever dollars you use from the Rainy Day Fund, you're able to soften the cuts, although we're still talking about very significant numbers.