MIDLOTHIAN — As Midlothian ISD embarks on the daunting task of creating a budget that will sustain the district through the coming year while facing the loss of state funding to the tune of what has been estimated at $1.5 million to more than $9 million, they are also addressing the need for the construction of new facilities to manage student growth.

According to Dr. Jerome Stewart, MISD superintendent of schools, “the state budget problem is MISD’s pain.”

“The state budget crisis is real. The recession is real.  And the kids are coming. The need to address student growth is there and the district has to put forth it’s best now to address that growth,” Stewart said. “In the overall picture we are seeing growth and we will continue to see growth.”

In 2005, the state created a “structural deficit” when the school property tax rate was cut from $1.50 to $1.00, promising to make up the difference with the expanded business tax. That expansion failed to perform as expected and the state delivered only 40 percent of what was lost after the property tax compression.

When the economy spiraled downward, the $814 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed into law in February 2009 and much of that money was devoted to education, according

to The Hechinger Report, Feb. 12, 2011.

Stewart said the $3.2 billion in stimulus funds the state received was intended to supplement state education, not to replace the funding that was lost.

“So you’ve got the property tax compression problem, the structural deficit – you’ve got the federal stimulus funds gone and we have to replace that. Well, we don’t have to replace it, but it’s gone. And now you have the recession,” Stewart said. “So obviously it’s a problem that the state has to fix. ”

MISD budget

As MISD works through the budget process, at this point the expectation is a $4.1 million revenue shortage in an approximately $60 million budget.

“The worst case scenario is $9.8 million and the best case is $1.5 million. Neither of this is very likely. According to legislative board numbers (the amount is closer to) $4.1 million,” Steward said.

He said they have targeted $3.4 million worth of budget cuts, some of which will affect personnel. He said 41 positions have been identified for possible elimination and that would still leave about a $700,000 to $800,000 shortfall to cover the budget.

“In the $3.4 million in proposed reductions in revenue, some of the money comes from reductions in campus budgets and central office budgets. Campus supply budgets will be reduced by 10 percent. Other budgets such as central administration will be reduced by 15 percent,” Stewart said. “Beyond that, some of the reductions are in personnel. That formula may change one way or the other.”

Growing pains

Voters will go to the polls in May to vote on a $97.3 million bond referendum. The single-proposition bond includes the construction of a seventh elementary school and a second high school, and additions to Frank Seale Middle School.

According to demographers, the 2010-11 enrollment projection is about 7,564 and the 2011-12 projected enrollment will be about 7762. At the high school in 10 years there will be 3,330 students. The facility is built to accommodate 2,500 students. It is projected to be at maximum capacity in 2012-13, Steward said.

“My guess is 10 years ago, people thought there wouldn’t be that growth and there wouldn’t be a need for additional facilities. Now we are just seeing the growth prior to it actually being there,” Steward said. “Even in the state budget crisis – kids are coming and it is possible to staff new facilities. We have to adjust and make a new norm. We need to plan for that growth.”

In a letter to Dr. Stewart from Dr. Edd Bigbee, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, addressing the district’s ability to staff the proposed new construction, Bigbee writes:

“As stated in the past, we can staff the new schools, but to do so our current operation cannot continue as it has in the past.

We will need approximately $2.3 million to staff the new construction. Since there is currently no method of raising more revenue, short of a Tax Ratification Election, a change in the state funding system, or a huge influx of students, these funds will have to be deleted from our current operating budget and designated to the new construction.”

Stewart said the question of the district’s ability to staff the new schools is a legitimate one.

“With a budget crisis we can still accomplish the staffing and operation of the new schools as they come on line. So that’s the most important thing that we’re working on,” he said. “So the idea is that the budget crisis is real and kids are coming. We are going to grow.”

Stewart said that if the funding formula remains the same, student growth would create enough revenue to allow the district to staff the schools. The key is to adjust the district’s spending priorities to accommodate less revenue.

The new norm

The district must adjust spending priorities to meet the reduction in revenue.

“This becomes the new norm, if we plan accordingly. Then again if we live in this world, we’ll be broke soon, because this world is gone. We have a new funding world with a new funding norm,” he said. “Even before we did the bond issue I said ‘Edd (Bigbee) are we going to have enough money for our schools? If not we need to know now and stop the process basically because we’re not going to build a building like that.’ We’re not going to build a building, we’ll do something else.”

Stewart explained that based on demographer projections there will be 198 new students next year and the district will have to do more with less money. Now the priority is going to be student growth and staffing the facilities, he said.

The following year, enrollment is projected to gain another 212 students, which is when the elementary school is supposed to come on line in August 2013. According to Stewart, the influx of students would generate approximately $1 million. The next year, when the new high school opens, the district projects an additional 333 students, which he said would generate another $1.5 million minus 3 to 5 percent.

“So if our priorities were different we would have problems. But we will have enough additional funding, if the funding formula stays the same, to be able to staff those schools,” he said. “That means we may not have a lot of money for other things.”

The district is projecting a 3 percent student growth rate; in 10 years the district will be serving 12,000 students.” 

What will change

With the shift in priorities to focus on managing student growth and staffing the new facilities, Stewart said the most noticeable change would be student to teacher ratios – increased class sizes. He doesn’t anticipate any massive program cuts, but said amenities like field trips could be reduced.

“It’s all in shifting to that new norm. Instead of rib eye, I’ll buy hamburger and maybe go to peanut butter – but we’re not going to starve to death,” he said. “The kids are going to come and we’re still going to educate them – it’s just going to look different. We are going to do more, especially this next year with less - in fact all these years we’re going to do more. Because if you think the legislature is going get us back to this level sometime soon - it is not going to change.”

Bond vote

The bond election is May 14, with early voting May 2-6 and 9-10. Detailed information about the referendum is available on the district website at www.midlothian-isd.net.

Contact Rebecca at rebecca.hertz@wninews.com or call 469-517-1451.