At its Feb. 24 meeting, the Leander ISD Board of Trustees approved calendar adjustments related to the emergency closure on February 4, discussed ways to close budget gaps for the upcoming fiscal year and recognized outstanding students and staff.
COVID-19 numbers falling sharply, but low attendance is impacting our budget
The district’s weekly average of COVID cases dropped to fewer than eight per day as the Omicron variant subsides. While that is a welcome relief, the surge in cases will leave a lasting impact on our budget by way of lower student attendance, especially in January.
State funding is based on both total enrollment and average daily attendance (ADA). We budget for 96% attendance based on historical data but saw less than 94% attendance in the fall semester. And that was before Omicron hit in January. Every percentage point equals about $3 million in lost funding.
There is hope that the state will implement another type of “hold harmless” funding for 2021-22 similar to what it provided in the 2020-21 school year. This would provide funding above for students not enrolled or students attending school less frequently due to the pandemic. Without hold harmless funding, the district could face an estimated loss of $14.8 million in state aid.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t have enough runway left in the school year to move that attendance percentage significantly higher,” said Superintendent Bruce Gearing, Ed.D. “So we’re still waiting for the (Texas Education Agency) commissioner to decide if he’s going to do any hold harmless… and that is very closely tied to our revenue.”
Calendar adjusted to add minutes following weather-related closures in early February
The district will convert the last two Early Release Wednesdays of the year to full school days in order to maintain compliance with state-required instructional minutes. Trustees approved making May 11 and May 18, 2022 full school days, adding minutes to the school calendar that were lost by canceling school during winter weather Feb. 4.
The Feb. 3 closure will be made up during the district’s designated bad weather day on April 18.
2022-23 Budget projections: district considers ways to close deficit
The District is facing a significant budget deficit for the next fiscal year and is looking for ways to close the gap. The updated preliminary 2022-23 budget projections, based on the budget assumptions approved by the Board in January, reflect the need to address a more than $20 million shortfall for the next fiscal year as well as deficits in the following two years.
Chief Finance Officer Elaine Cogburn detailed different approaches to address the deficit, including enhancing revenues (potentially through tax rate management) and reducing expenditures. District administration is meeting with departments and campus principals to examine how best to reduce costs.
A full 85% of overall district expenditures are related to payroll costs, which are growing due to:
- Maintaining staffing ratios/class sizes
- Implementation of new programs
- Cost of living increases
“The vast majority of the budget goes towards payroll and benefits, so even in the best of times, it’s a challenge to stretch our dollars,” Board President Trish Bode said. Our focus has to be on using the resources we have to support our teachers, staff and students in a way that encourages transformative learning. I appreciate the boards desire to do a deep dive and focus on that goal.”