LA JOYA–School board members asked administrators to work more than $43 million of additional expenditures into next year’s budget at a workshop Monday evening.
La Joya Independent School District Board of Trustees later approved 4 percent raises for its staff, $2,400 for its teachers and $1.25/hour for its clerical and technical employees. That, along with new positions, accounted for more than $12 million of the additional budget expenses.
The board has yet to discuss publicly the overall financial outlook for the district in terms of revenues versus expenditures, but according to Alfredo Vela, assistant superintendent of administration and finance, the district has $116 million in its fund balance–that’s up from $45 million in 2004.
“I mean we’ve been saving for eight years,” said trustee Johnn Alaniz at Monday’s meeting. “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.”
The discussion started off as a $43.3 million wish-list that Superintendent Alda Benavides asked the board to help narrow down. It included four tiers of priorities. The first tier encompassed the increased salaries and additional positions approved by the board.
Totaling $24.5 million, the second priority list included projects like the natatorium, which has increased in cost from $9 to $12 million, and a planetarium, priced at $2 million. It also includes new HVAC systems for several campuses and $450,000 for security cameras at La Joya High School, as well as $1.5 million for an emergency shelter dome.
With the exception of the cameras, Benavides said the projects in the second priority list were started this year.
“The only thing that you might be able to delay, and I don’t think you’ll be able to delay a whole lot, would be something that’s facilities-wise,” Vela said. “I don’t think that we can delay anything with instruction; we can’t delay raises. The natatorium, we want to have it done by next summer. The dome, I don’t know, there’s been too much red tape with it.”
Among the third priority list were band instruments for the middle school, valued at $920,000 and GPS for the district’s entire fleet, costing $1 million to outfit the buses alone. All of the third priority expenditures added up to $2.1 million.
And on the fourth priority list was $890,000 for the academies, $250,000 to upgrade the golf course, $1.5 million to renovate the old band hall and $400,000 for classroom furniture. The fourth list added up to $3.8 million.
“We can’t possibly do it all; there’s too much,” Benavides told the board, asking them to pull out their own priorities. “Conservatively, what would you like to pull out to be a priority?”
The board already had approved the first priority list, and trustees agreed the second priority list needed to be done, so they moved on to the third tier.
Board President Esmer “Espie” Ochoa first wanted to ensure tennis courts were among the plans for the district, and Vela assured her they were included in the cost of the natatorium.
Ochoa then said anything listed as curriculum and instruction should not be eliminated. Also, Ochoa said, she knows the middle school needs the band instruments, and she agreed the district needed to spend money on buses.
By then, the list added up to $39.3 million.
“We might as well leave it there at the $43.3 (million). It’s not really that much,” trustee J.J. Garza said, earning laughter from staff and the rest of the board. “The money will come back. I know we’re going to save on insurance, and besides that, I know there’s more savings. We just have to look for it.”
“As you stated, they’re needs; they’re not wants,” Benavides said, thanking staff for their work. “It’s good planning. There’s no doubt about it.”