Officials say LHISD ‘can survive’ projected cuts in state funding

Early budget projections show the Liberty Hill Independent School District could lose $623,676 in state funds for 2011-12 – a figure that would have been significantly higher if the school district was not growing in enrollment. Business Manager Frank Watson told school trustees Monday that legislation adopted in June changed the amount the school district would have received under the current year’s funding formula by $1,264,271.

“This year, we’re getting less than we did last year, which means no pay increase,” said Watson. “We will do all we possibly can not to lay off people.”

He said as some employees have resigned or retired, district and campus administrators are trying to determine if any of those positions can remain unfilled.

At the same time, district officials are projecting 135 new students in 2011-12. More students means additional state funding.

Local governments will receive the official notice of taxable values from Williamson County Appraisal District in the coming days. That figure will be the basis for projecting revenue from local property taxes, as well as state funds.

Watson’s early projections presented to the school board on Monday were based on his estimate of $1.045 billion. Based on the current tax rates of $1.04 per $100 valuation for Maintenance & Operations and $0.29 per $100 on Interest & Sinking, he projected revenue from local property taxes at $14,001,735.

He said state funding formulas are structured so that districts that see an increase in local revenue, lose some state funding, and vice versa.

He said Liberty Hill will also lose some federal dollars in the new fiscal year. Some federal programs have been cut and stimulus funds are also gone.

“There are still a lot of variables,” Watson said, alerting trustees that the numbers will change before they see a proposed budget in the coming weeks.

“But, if it comes in at this level, then we can survive it,” he said.

“It’s better news that it could have been. It’s better than what we expected in January or February,” said Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart.

Watson said a utility savings program initiated by the school district in fall 2010 has already resulted in significant savings on electricity. He said the expenses saved in that area will help ease the blow of anticipated state and federal revenue reductions.

Also Monday, the Board approved changes to the Student Code of Conduct that reflect laws passed by the Legislature in 2011. The additions are based on a model developed by the Texas Association of School Boards.

Some of those changes include mandatory placement in District Alternative Education Program for aggravated robbery, possession or delivery of synthetic compositions of controlled substances.

It becomes an expellable offense for breach of computer security, cyber bullying and “sexting.”

The new Code also adds tire deflation devices like spike strips and “caltrops” to a list of prohibited weapons.

The district also modified its policy on cell phone usage restricting use during passing periods between classes. Use was already restricted during class.

The Board also unanimously approved a bid on fuel that is $0.12 per gallon over the rack price on regular unleaded and $0.13 per gallon over the rack price for diesel. Hart said only one bid was received.

Following an executive session on personnel issues, the Board voted unanimously to accept the resignations of Brian Herman and Jason Jones.

The Board also hired the following new personnel: Joel Gotcher, Jr., High School Social Studies/Coach;

John Hall, High School Science/Coach; Pamela Irwin, BBE Sp Ed Resource; Amy Klein, High School BCIS; and Tonya Papasan, Jr High Resource Math.

School district architects reported the progress of construction on the various campuses. The Liberty Hill Elementary School cafeteria, which is being enlarged and remodeled, is on track for completion by the time school opens next month.

A parking lot at Bill Burden Elementary School was completed this week, and a ground-breaking ceremony for the new high school was scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 18. The ceremony will be at the site of the new school, west of Liberty Hill on SH 29.

Trustee Mike Bowles was not present Monday.