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La Joya ISD goes back to drawing board on budget

La Joya ISD Superintendent Alda T. Benavides said administrators are going back to the drawing board at the third budget workshop of the summer.

The general fund as proposed is $28 million over budget, with an anticipated $308 million in expenses. That includes raises for employees, but it doesn’t include another $30 million in special projects.

City of La Joya Seal“Needless to say, between here and … the next board meeting, we’re going to do some work to bring those numbers down,” said Alfredo Vela, assistant superintendent of finance. “There’s no way we can bring a budget that is $50 to $60 million short to the board.”

The next workshop is scheduled for July 29. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget in August.

Already, Vela said the shortfall includes more than $28 million in projects already under construction, like the sports and learning complex at the golf course. There’s not much that can be trimmed there. Budget officers will take a hard look at special requests from departments, which add up to $3.6 million, but Vela said they’d be looking at the entire budget.

Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas said the board is all about taking care of the district’s staff, but they’re hearing complaints from parents that several schools need sidewalks or roofing. The district also needs quality facilities for education, Salinas said.

And trustee Esperanza “Espie” Ochoa said many of the projects involved things like replacing gutters or putting in new doors for safety purposes.

“I mean all of these are needs,” Ochoa said.

Benavides emphasized the priority schools that would see upgrades this year are La Joya High School, Reyna Elementary, Leo Elementary and Benavides Elementary.

At previous workshops, board members have indicated they’d like to see pay raises for all staff, and budget officers recommended a $1,200 increase for teachers and presented options for a 2, 2.5 percent and 3 percent increase for noninstructional staff. The options would cost the district between $4.7 million and $7 million.

The budget projections don’t include a request by board members to increase the pay for teachers who have been with the district 20 years or longer. Ochoa said she wanted to see a break down of increases, where each year veteran teachers see a boost in pay. She said she also wanted the increases to cover nurses and librarians as well.

Benavides said the district is analyzing the numbers and how they affect the budget. She also said they’re looking into using that method to retain teachers, researching when the school district usually loses its teachers.

On the budget shortfall, Ochoa said one way to save money is to cut costs on events held at Mario’s Banquet and Conference Center. Instead, she said, those events could be held at central office. Also, she once worked in a school district that didn’t give central administration staff raises one year to balance the budget.

Board President Johnn Alaniz pointed out that $60 million is 20 percent of the budget for the district’s general fund.

“That’s not trimming the fat. That’s like taking a whole arm off,” he said. “We knew eventually we were going to get to this point because of everything we’ve been doing for our employees and the community. We need to think a little bit outside the box.”

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