Sharyland ISD is among the many school districts across the country experiencing a decline in student enrollment. But more vital to district revenue is SISD’s additional decline in student attendance. Chief Financial Officer Jaime Ortega explained the issue at the May 23 budget workshop.
Average Daily Attendance (ADA) determines how much funding the state gives to each school district. So every time a student is absent from school, the district loses money — at least $6,106 per student per day. Regardless of the enrollment rate, if enough students are consistently absent, it can significantly affect the overall budget.
School districts determine their budget for the upcoming school year based on figures from the previous school year. For the 2022-2023 school year, Sharyland ISD conservatively budgeted for an ADA of 9,200. But as the district’s CFO calculated the figures from the end of the year, he determined the ADA was actually 8,961 — an attendance rate of about 94%. Originally, he projected it would be at least 96%; historically, SISD’s average attendance rate is close to 97%.
“[It’s] just simple math,” Ortega said. “When you look at the loss of 200 students, and if you look at the basic allotment of $6,160, we’re losing over a million [dollars] in revenue.”
Additionally, administration updated SISD’s figures in a demographic software program; it showed a projected continuous enrollment decline into at least 2027.
“We don’t know if that’s the new norm, we don’t know if we can hopefully get better than that,” he said. “But the scary part, the one thing that we talked about as a cabinet, is the enrollment is what’s affecting us. And all projections are that we are going to keep dropping. So that’s going to be an issue going forward when it comes to creating the budget.”
Administration determined Sharyland needs an ADA of about 9,600 to maintain SISD at its current level. Trustee David Keith suggested making the district open enrollment to boost attendance numbers.
“My mind is balancing, probably between stuff that you guys have already done before, which is trying to figure out how to make our district more attractive,” he said. “I know the open enrollment was discussed before, opening up to 300 students, I believe. We’re trying to make it to where people actually want to come to increase our enrollment, and I know you’ve thought about it, and it’s probably time.”
But other board members, such as President Jose “Pepe” Garcia, were not convinced open enrollment would solve the ADA problem.
“We can have the high enrollment but if they’re not coming on a daily basis…how do we have the communication with parents that says ‘Thank you for enrolling your kids in SISD but we need you in class,’” Garcia said.
Chief Data Analyst DeVaughn Resczenski explained that tuition students have a better attendance rate than Sharyland’s “homegrown” students — making Vice President Maritza Ramirez lean more toward Keith’s line of thinking.
“The writing’s on the wall. Our numbers are declining…and everyone around us is declining. So I think obviously there’s some creativity that needs to occur,” Ramirez said. “But if there’s a number [to reach], and there’s an ability to be highly selective, and you’re saying that these kids have already established a pattern of being higher attendance students, then maybe we’re not taking such a big risk.”
Trustee Hector Rivera said the solution is likely a combination of ideas.
Superintendent Dr. Maria Vidaurri said administration will explore all options before the next board workshop in June.
The drop in attendance rates also affects employee raises. The estimated budget for the 2023-2024 school year is $135.4 million, which does not include pay increases.
“To give out a 2% raise is usually about almost $2 million,” Ortega explained. “So when you look at the loss of 200 students, that’s almost about what the raise would cover. So that’s the situation that we’re in and that’s why we talk about those options of how do we increase ADA not only to maintain what we have right now, but also to do anything extra.”
Last year, the board of trustees approved pay raises for all employees and increased substitute teacher stipends. However, the stipends came from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which expires next year. Administration is also concerned with how the district will continue the increased substitute teacher rate once the funds run out.
Additionally, Vidaurri said the district plans to conduct a stipend study — which includes coaches for extracurricular activities — to gauge how SISD compares.
Sharyland ISD has until July 1 to adopt the budget for the next fiscal year. Currently, the figures are pending property values from the Hidalgo County Appraisal District and the state comptroller. The chief financial officer will present another budget draft at an upcoming meeting or workshop before the board approves the final amount.