ENNIS – Ennis ISD Superintendent Barbara Qualls warned board trustees during their meeting Tuesday night of a potential multi-million cut in state funding.

“There’s universal bad news from Austin,” Qualls said, saying every district in the state has been assigned a maximum funding amount that will not be available to them.

“Our assigned amount is $6 million,” she said. “While I do not feel we can expect to be cut that much, we can expect some form of a cut in state funding,” Qualls said, noting the $6 million represents 20 percent of the EISD workforce.

She then went through a series of about 20 measures recommended by the Texas Association of School Boards and other education agencies. While Qualls doesn’t see all of those coming to EISD, some are already in place and others are being considered. 

One recommendation, energy saving technology, is in use, and one of the agenda items was for authorization to replace outdated heat exchangers in two of the elementary schools.

Other recommendations include consolidation of equipment such as copiers and seeking longer term leasing and contracts. Yet another is reducing the number of non-teacher positions through attrition.

“We already are practicing this as evident in the administration office,” Qualls said.

Reducing the amount of participation in employee health care programs, changing purchasing procedures, shorter contracts for some contracted staff, hiring and raise freezes also are ways districts can cut costs.

Individual campus budget cuts and changing the pupil to teacher ratios in the elementary schools also were brought to the board as a suggestion; however, Qualls did not recommend the elimination of block scheduling.

“The system we currently have with eight periods having teachers in seven of those fits Ennis ISD. Reducing the number of periods to seven and eliminating block scheduling does not fit Ennis ISD,” she said.

Pending legislation

Qualls also briefed the board on bills before the Legislature, such as requiring districts to check the immigration status of foreign students and possibly delaying implementation of the new accountability status, she feels would not be good for the district. 

To make up the funding shortfall, Qualls said Gov. Rick Perry does not want to tap into the Rainy Day Fund or allow districts to access $850 million in federal funds available through education stimulus monies.

Make-up days

On last week’s weather event, Qualls said the district is covered for two of the four days the district was closed. Those makeup days will be May 30 and June 3.  The district will look at alternative makeup days for the other two as well as seek a waiver from the Texas Education Agency.

“We were advised by the TEA Department of Waivers to wait until all potential bad weather days have passed. At that time, the TEA will make a blanket decision,” Qualls said.

No action was taken pending a TEA decision.

Qualls brought forward proposals to renovate San Jacinto Auditorium and replace heat exchangers in Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston Elementary.

Trustee Connie Durbin asked that the two projects be separated, saying the heat exchanger is a necessary project with the auditorium renovation optional.

“I am told the life span is approximately 10 years. The units in these schools are 18 to 20 years,” director of operations Jeff Hill said.

The trustees approved the project with a $135,000 cap, with Hill saying preliminary estimates were about $131,000.

“ I really think we can possibly complete this less than the original estimates,” he said.

“This is a piece of district history and in the city’s historic area,” Qualls said, saying small maintenance issues have come up.

“There are areas in this building that need attention,” she said, citing a need to paint the ceiling, which would be the most expensive part due to the height and need for a scaffolding system to do the work.

Hill said he had received an estimate of $132 per seat to upgrade the auditorium seating. “I’ve been told this is a very good deal,” he said.

“The auditorium configuration will basically stay the same. With the new designed seats and spacing an additional 30 to 40 seats can be added,” he said.

Planning of the project was discussed.

“We have two options: work around the program schedule or work during the summer months” Qualls said.

The board authorized a $215,000 cap for the project, with the funding to come from unspent bond monies.

An election was called for May 14 to fill the expiring terms of Place 1, currently held by Dr. Mack Boyd; Place 2, held by Miles Strunc; and the unexpired term filled by Connie Durbin that was vacated by Pete Bibby.