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2014 LJIS LOGOEmployees are getting 4 percent raises, buses are getting GPS and students are getting a $12 million natatorium in the $337.6 million proposed budget presented by La Joya ISD administrators Wednesday.

The added expenses mean the district will dip into its $116 million fund balance. Alfredo Vela, assistant superintendent of administration and finance, estimated the district would need more than $23.6 million from its reserves to cover the budget. The district is maintaining its $1.31 tax rate.

It was the first time the district publicly released the budget projections, though staff and board members have said throughout budget workshops that the district would be using some of its fund balance.

“I mean we’ve been saving for eight years,” said trustee Johnn Alaniz at a workshop in June. “We’ve done a very good job … I understand about upkeep and all that, but this is something that I feel the community would be proud of us for spending this money for our children. I think we can get the community behind us spending this money.”

Included in the budget is a $2,400 bump for teachers, 4 percent raise for non-teaching professionals and $1.25 for auxiliary staff.

Other district improvements include $1.5 million for improvements to the old band hall, $920,000 for band instruments in the middle schools and $450,000 for security cameras at La Joya High School.

At a previous workshop, trustee J.J. Garza pointed out the district should have savings from an effort to be more energy efficient, and after Wednesday’s workshop, the board heard from a company that aims to save the district even more money on energy.

Paul Graff, of Air Wind and Solar, said if the district commits to buying power from the company for 20 years, Air Wind and Solar will construct covered parking with solar panels mounted on top at no cost to the district.

In exchange, the district would be committed to buying 50-70 percent of its power from the company for 20 years at a fixed rate. At the end of that time, Graff said, the district either could extend the contract with Air Wind and Solar or the company would gift the solar panels to the district. Of course, he said, he’d prefer that the district extend the contract.

Graff also said some districts are looking at covered walkways for students with the solar panels mounted on top or the panels could be mounted of roofs.

Because it’s a private company, Air Wind Solar can take advantage of some tax incentives that the district wouldn’t be able to have, Graff said.

“The catch is two-fold, you have to stay with us for a long time. Energy is a long-term play,” Graff said, adding that the second catch is that some of the district’s space would be used to construct the covered parking.

He estimated $862,000 in savings the first year and more than $17 million by the end of the 20-year contract. Over that time, Air Wind Solar would own the equipment and maintain it.

If the district takes over ownership in year 20, it stands to save $25 million over the following five years, Graff said. He estimated more than 29,000 panels would be needed to provide enough power.

Power companies tend to like working with companies like his, Graff said, because they get overloaded, particularly during the summer months. The buffer is natural gas, but Graff said it can be cheaper for electricity companies to allow Air Wind Solar to put up solar panels.

Graff’s presentation was listed as a discussion item and the district took no action on it.

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