Faced with a slow, steady decline in enrollment, the La Joya Independent School District plans to close two campuses and eliminate nearly 140 jobs when the school year ends.
La Joya ISD plans to shut down Leo J. Leo Elementary School in Palmview and Rosendo Benavides Elementary School in Sullivan City. The district also plans to eliminate nearly 140 jobs when the school year ends.
“It was a tough decision,” said school board Trustee Esmeralda Solis. “But I think that in the long run it’s going to benefit our district, and this too shall pass. We will rise above all this together as a district.”
Trustees discussed the “Staffing Adjustment Plan” during school board meetings on Jan. 11 and Jan. 25.
The discussions, however, occurred in executive session, which isn’t open to the public.
Trustees approved the “Staffing Adjustment Plan” less than an hour before midnight on Jan. 25. Before the board voted, Superintendent Gisela Saenz read a prepared statement.
“Over the course of the last few years, La Joya ISD has experienced a decline in student enrollment due to several factors, which include the COVID-19 pandemic, building of more charter schools in the area and slow growth in our territorial jurisdiction,” Saenz said. “This decline in enrollment now requires the La Joya ISD adjust staffing patterns to adequately sustain budgetary needs into the future in order to maintain current levels of service to students and employees.”
The number of children enrolled at La Joya ISD peaked in 2015, when the district had 29,690 students, according to the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report approved by the school board in November. By 2022, enrollment had dropped to 24,775 students.
Trustee Roberto Zamora, who joined the school board in June, spent much of 2022 warning that La Joya ISD would need to make difficult decisions.
In December, when trustees discussed a $1,250 stipend for employees, Zamora and Trustee Alda T. Benavides urged the school board to save the money to soften the blow of any future layoffs.
Other trustees decided to approve the stipends anyway.
“We made a short-term decision when we should have been thinking long term also,” Zamora said.
Saenz said the plan would reduce payroll costs by about $24.3 million.
La Joya ISD would save about $1.5 million by eliminating 35 vacant positions. The district would save another $8.8 million by eliminating 104 additional positions when the school year ends. La Joya ISD is banking on what Saenz called “natural end-of-year teacher-educator turnover” to save the remaining $14 million.
The district held meetings at Benavides Elementary and Leo Elementary during the past few days to notify employees about the decision.
Exactly how many employees will lose their jobs remains unclear.
About 50 people work at Benavides Elementary, according to salary data released by La Joya ISD. About 50 more work at Leo Elementary.
Teachers may be able to transfer to other schools. Custodians, clerks and other employees may also be able to find other jobs at La Joya ISD.
How many employees ultimately lose their jobs will depend on how many openings are created by turnover at other campuses.
Board President Alex Cantu said the plan would place La Joya ISD on the path to financial stability.
“This plan is composed of multiple stages that will collectively help achieve the long-term goals of budgetary stability and preparedness for future projects and district growth,” Cantu said in a statement. “Moving forward with this plan brings exceptional opportunities for our students and our staff. We as a district will be able to improve student programs and instructional needs.”