|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
TISD expects to lose $570,000 in state funds
Trinity Standard -
TRINITY – Faced with losing $570,000 in state funds, the Trinity School Board began work Monday night for ways to come up with additional local funds or cut expenses. During the special budget workshop, the board began examining the possibility of either reorganizing its tax structure, cutting personnel or both. Business Manager Kevin Parrish noted the state is facing an overall $26.8 billion deficit, which will force major cuts in its allocation to local school districts. He noted that while all Trinity school campuses and departments have been asked to reduce their budgets by 5 to 10 percent, that will not be enough to offset the loss in state money. Parrish said the largest budget items school districts have are the personnel and contracted services expenses, which account for about 88 percent of the spending during the course of the year. “You can reduce spending for supplies, travel and capital outlay, but that only accounts for 12 percent of the budget. The largest slices of the budget pie are for personnel and contracted services. Cuts in those two areas will have the greatest impact,” he told the school board. Although no action was taken during Monday’s workshop, board members were told that a reduction in force (RIF) is needed. Under the RIF plan, some teachers who resign or retire may not be replaced, according to Superintendent David Plymale. The superintendent said a “flexible hiring freeze” already was in place. Any position that is now vacant or which will become vacant will be evaluated to determine if its duties can be split among current staff members. Only if the duties cannot be assigned to other employees will a new person be hired. In addition, incentives might be adopted to encourage teachers to retire. Plymale said it also might become necessary for the board to consider not rehiring some teachers or administrators at the end of their current contracts in order to reduce the overall salary expense. One option also being considered by the school board is what is being termed a “tax swap.” This would require the approval of voters in a Tax Rate Election (TRE). Jim Vinson of the Region IV Education Service Center in Huntsville was on hand to explain the tax swap system. At present, the Trinity Independent School District’s tax rate is at the maximum amount allowed by law. Any increase in the rate would have to be done through voter approval. The rate currently is set at $1.14 per $100 in assessed value with $1.04 being earmarked for the maintenance and operation (M&O) of the school district and about 10 cents allocated to paying off the district’s bond debt. Under the program outlined by Vinson, voters would be asked to allow the district to set an M&O rate of about $1.14. The debt service rate of 10 cents would be unchanged, which by state law would allow the district to set a tax rate as high as $1.24. However, under the plan, the district would keep the rate at $1.14 and allocate most or all of the tax income to M&O. Under state law, the school’s bond debt must be paid and Vinson said the district could use its existing fund balance to cover that cost. The following year, the debt service allocation would be returned to its current level and the M&O rate would be returned to $1.04, keeping that tax rate at $1.14. Vinson said this two-year cycle could be repeated until the state’s budget woes are solved. He noted the major advantage of shifting the debt service income into M&O would be an increase in state funds. If the district shifted seven of its 10-cent debt service tax into M&O, it would boost M&O revenue by about $422,000 with almost $300,000 of that coming from the state. He noted that one area that should be addressed during the current state legislative session is the inequity in the way school districts are funded. The ESC official noted at present the statewide Average Target Revenue is $5,251 per student. However, Trinity is funded at only $4,977 per student. “The difference in funding between the state average and what you are receiving is $540,000. If this inequity would be corrected, you’d be just about out of the woods,” Vinson noted. He noted that while Trinity has been allocated target revenue of $5,251 per student, there are other school district’s that receive revenue in the $7,000 and $8,000 per student range. “The children in Trinity deserve the same education and programs as those in Highland Park or Franklin,” he said. During the workshop, Plymale suggested holding community meetings to present information to the community about the current budget crisis and to explain the options for solving it. Board member Steve Tyler noted it might be better if Plymale, board members and other representatives of the school district go out and visit various club, organizations and churches. “I could probably name the people who would come to a town hall-type meeting and there wouldn’t be many. We could get the word out much more effectively if we take the message to the people,” he said.