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The La Joya Independent School District held a work session and regular meeting this week, discussing the 2020-2021 budget and how they plan to approach the upcoming school year.
During the work session, the administration discussed the Average Daily Attendance (ADA), budget summary and potential tax rate for the 2020-2021 school year. Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Finance Joel Treviño presented the proposed budget to the Board of Trustees.
The Hidalgo County Appraisal District will be providing the final property values either Friday or Monday this week, and once they come in LJISD will send those figures to the Texas Education Agency to determine the maximum tax rate to be set up for maintenance and operations tax rate.
The district budget was presented with last year’s tax rate of $1.311 per $100 valuation. $1.0547 is allocated toward maintenance and operations, while $0.2563 for the debt service.
This was the third work session regarding the annual budget for this year. LJISD is anticipating revenues of about $226 million in the general fund, with expenditures of $224,063,526.
“We are also transferring out a total of $18,327,239, which comprises of the high school allotment, the athletics fund, the Special Ed. fund, College Career and Military Readiness, the debt service, the Sports and Learning Complex, the Howling Trails Golf Course and the print shop,” Treviño said, explaining that will make a difference of $16,376,398. “That’s a shortfall in our general fund – that means we do not have enough revenues being collected in the current year to cover all the general fund as a whole in expenditures.”
Different expenditures like technology are going to come into play in the upcoming school year, which will impact the budget in various ways according to Treviño.
Following the work session, a regular meeting was held. Administration presented more information about the district’s reopening plan for the upcoming school year.
Last week, Hidalgo County mandated that schools delay in-person instruction through Sept. 27. LJISD plans on beginning remote instruction for all students and teachers starting Aug. 17.
To accomplish equity amongst all students, the district has invested $6.5 million in new technology and hotspots. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Magda Villarreal presented an update on the tech to the board, noting every student will have either a tablet or laptop computer distributed to them to utilize and access online curriculum.
Depending on their grade level, students will use appropriate devices to get the most of their education from home. Villarreal stated they plan on distributing the devices starting Aug. 13, and will roll them out through Aug. 15.
LJISD also plans to continue mobile Wi-Fi hotspots using buses, in order to ensure every area of the district has access to curriculum and lessons. The district estimates that at least 10,000 students do not have internet connectivity, so they have also invested in personal hotspots to be installed in tech for individual students. Paper packets will also be utilized.
“Whenever we do open our classrooms physically, we are also preparing to do that in the safest way possible,” Superintendent Dr. Gisela Saenz said, noting they want to ensure employees are also safe.
Saenz spoke about how the district has also invested in Personal Protective Equipment for students and staff, including the distribution of reusable and disposable masks, gloves, thermometers, air purifiers, face shields and hand sanitizer.
Following the executive session, the LJISD Board of Trustees also approved a request by the city of Palmview, granting the municipality land across the street from Leo James Leo Elementary School.
The district agreed to donate approximately ten acres of land to the city of Palmview, which city officials say will be the location of a new city hall, fire department, library and educational training center for Emergency Medical Services. According to the city, City Manager Michael Leo had the vision to request the land from LJISD considering its central location.
The LJISD Board of Trustees came to a consensus that this land would ultimately benefit not only the city, but also the district. As everything is still in preliminary stages, there are no cost estimates for the projects, but the city anticipates most of the funding will come from grants.
Linda Sarabia, the Mayor Pro-Tem for Palmview, noted there are good things happening in the city, this approval included. She said they were excited about the opportunities this provides not only community members, but students.
“This is a great milestone for the city of Palmview,” Sarabia said. “Our citizens have asked for a library for years, and this collaboration with LJISD brings us one step closer to meeting that need.”
Sarabia noted that this donation highlights that safety and education are paramount for both parties.
“The EMS Training Center will be a huge impact not only to Palmview, but to our entire LJISD community,” Sarabia said. “Not everyone is going to college, and this shows there is a desire to provide more career and technical education certifications for everyone.”
Following instruction from the board, LJISD decided to begin working 100 percent remotely through Aug. 3. All employees aside from law enforcement will be working from home in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ensure schools can make plans to reopen in the fall.
“Quite a few of us have received phone calls from various employees and people from the community, and I know our team of eight [the Board of Trustees] has no issue with doing everything we can to assist our employees and make them feel safe in their work environment,” Board Member Armin Garza said. “I would like for us to be able to send everybody home as far as all employees – including maintenance and custodial staff – for the next week and a half.”
“Right now, we’re in an uptick when it comes to cases and people who are dying on a day-to-day basis,” Garza added. “We’re doing everything in our power to keep everyone safe and at home. If [a week and a half] is the time we’re allotted by TEA and everyone else, I say let’s take advantage of it – let everybody go home, get tested, stay safe and hunker down and try to beat out this virus.”