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MCISD wrestles budget cut increases

MCISDlogo_TNMISSION — As the Mission Consolidated Independent School District continues to make painstaking cuts to its budget, administrators struck board trustees with another blow over the weekend: They’ll have to make bigger cuts.

Initially, over the past few months, administrators estimated the loss of funding to the district would be about $5 million, but after paying closer attention to talks in the House and Senate, that shortfall is now closer to $8 million.

“We’re losing a lot of money, that’s the bottom line,” said Superintendent Dr. Cornelio Gonzalez at an April 2 workshop.

District officials met over the weekend to start preparing for next year, make informed decisions about future budget cuts and try to help guide principals about how many teachers they can expect to manage next year. The deadline for the district to alert teachers it won’t be renewing their contracts is April 18.

“We have to move on,” Gonzalez said. “And $8 million is in the middle of what we could lose. That’s an arbitrary amount; it could be wrong. It could be a little too short; it could be a little too high. We do not know.”

If the loss of funds exceeds $8 million, the district might have to go into its fund balance for money for the first year. The following school year, cuts would have to be even more drastic.

“The cuts could go up to $12.6 million,” Gonzalez said.

Currently, the unreserved fund balance is roughly $27 million, district officials said.

MCISD has consistently reminded its staff that cuts to the district’s workforce would be done through attrition. But as attrition is a waiting game, the district has to create a master plan for other cuts.

“We must have a target,” the superintendent explained.

Under the district’s recent resignation incentive program, where the district hoped to entice 217 employees to leave the district to save about $5 million, only 71 people participated, with only 67 eligible for the program.

Their participation brings the district a net savings of approximately $2.9 million. This includes the salary, benefits and incentive pay, said Lucio Mendoza, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

This year, along with the 67 employees who will leave at the end of the year, the positions of 17 other employees who left voluntarily won’t be filled. The closing of those positions saves the district $631,895.

These positions, like those from the 217 in the resignation incentive program, were identified as overstaffed by a staffing study conducted recently, Gonzalez added.

Adjusting for the cuts earlier this year, $470,511 was cut from district spending at the department and campus level; an additional five percent would save the district $139,119. In previous years, departmental cuts were as high as 20 percent, but any additional cuts here have to be directed from the board.

“This is where we need guidance,” Gonzalez said.

And further slashes could come in the payment of health care by asking employees to help pay $93 of the bill, saving the district $417,508. Asking employees to fund health care entirely could save the district $2.5 million.

“I’d rather save people’s jobs,” Trustee Raymond Longoria said when posed with different options for budget cuts.

Principals at the meeting told trustees a number of their staff would find it tough to pay $93 a month for their insurance, but said they’d rather take that option if they can keep their jobs.

“This is a tremendous load they have,” Gonzalez told administrators of the board.

Other options discussed included cutting dental insurance payments, paid vacations, student insurance, travel allowances and stipends. Officials also suggested eliminating bus routes that are in non-hazardous areas within a two-mile radius. These cuts totaled a district savings of about $8.1 million.

“None of the options are happy options,” Gonzalez said.

Discussing and seeing the potential budget cuts, and their savings to the district, has helped staff and administrators prepare for the rough road ahead, principals said, but the uncertainty of future cuts looming does little to ease their concerns.

“If the numbers come back higher, we’ll be in a world of hurt,” said Cantu Elementary School Principal Jose Lopez.

Along with cutting back in departments, Gonzalez said the district also wants to cut back on utilities, which make up the second highest expenditure for MCISD behind salaries.

In an upcoming pilot program, the district will shift custodial work to allow the school to close by 6 p.m. to save on energy costs. Custodians are usually still cleaning in elementaries, when the campuses are empty, until about midnight, officials said.

“We’re going to make sure everyone is guaranteed their job,” board President James Olivares said.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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