Mission CISD made an active effort to increase enrollment following a drop in numbers during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work paid off. This time last year, enrollment was about 800 students lower than enrollment for this year. But now, district leaders have shifted focus to improve attendance numbers to avoid losing millions of dollars.
In Texas, attendance and funding are linked. Public schools lose state funding each time a student is absent. Lower attendance means lower funding, which could mean a lower budget. During the 2021-2022 school year, absences due to the delta and omicron variants noticeably impacted Mission CISD’s attendance numbers. According to Assistant Superintendent for Finance Joel Garcia, the district ultimately lost about $13 million.
Fortunately for Mission CISD, the finance team closely monitored the situation, projecting how it would affect the district budget, which allowed them to make adjustments to avoid a significant impact. To offset the financial loss of low attendance, Mission CISD leaders decided to pay the secondary campuses out of a different fund, which the Texas Education Agency approved. In November 2021, MCISD restructured the budget to pay all secondary campuses out of ESSER II funds — the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund from the federal government.
But now, ESSER II funding is gone, and the district is still experiencing issues with student attendance. If conditions don’t improve, Mission CISD’s budget for the 2022-2023 school year will end up in a deficit, forcing them to dip into the fund balance.
The fund balance is the MCISD’s cash reserve, and TEA requires districts to have enough money in the fund balance to operate for six to eight months in the event of a disaster. Currently, Mission CISD’s fund balance sits at about $80.8 million. But the assistant superintendent for finance has said the district avoids dipping into that fund unless absolutely necessary.
“We try to do everything that we can to maximize the attendance, but you’ll see that the potential revenue loss is about $6.9 million,” Garcia said. “And to put it in a picture that may help us digest what that means…that’s about 116 teacher positions. That’s the urgency. So if you put that into perspective, we would be in the red. This is why it’s important for us to really maximize that attendance, so that we can ensure that we don’t dip into fund balance.”
To increase attendance and avoid falling into a financial deficit, Mission CISD’s leaders have drawn up a campaign and various strategies that encourage students to get back into the classroom. The strategies include scoreboard and social media marketing, attendance incentives and holding flu shot clinics.
Part of the reason attendance is down is because of the flu season. Texas health experts have been warning about a more severe flu season based on observations in the southern hemisphere. And Mission CISD is already experiencing the effects of the virus. At the Oct. 5 board of trustees workshop, Superintendent Dr. Carol Perez reported a surge of flu cases in the first reporting period of the school year. Therefore, the district will continue sanitizing areas, encouraging hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing to avoid spreading the virus and, in turn, absences due to illness.
“This [reporting period], we’re doing everything — the sanitizing continues, all of that continues from COVID because of the flu,” Perez said. “The campuses continue to do all kinds of activities promoting attendance. However, if the students are sick, they’re sick. But we needed to give [the board] the projection so we know what we’re dealing with.”