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Facing $20 million cumulative deficit, McAllen ISD begins budget work

For the third year in a row, McAllen ISD leadership is staring down the barrel of a difficult budget process for the 2024-2025 school year.

The district is facing an unaddressed $6.2 million budget deficit for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

To compound that issue, McAllen ISD projects a budget deficit of $13.8 million for the 2024-2025 school year.

It’s a less than ideal situation.

Adding to a lack of state support and stagnant enrollment that the district has attributed its monetary woes to for the past two years is the drying up of federal ESSER monies tied to the pandemic, funds that buoyed school district finances through coronavirus turbulence.

Efforts to boost enrollment, the district’s main finance strategy before cuts last year, appear to have at best only stemmed the monetary bleeding. The district predicts the loss of another 500 students next year.

Last summer, after significant budget work on the board, the district rolled out a plan to save $3.3 million by cutting 60 positions through attrition and other cost-savings measures.

That plan was largely put on hold after the departure of former superintendent J. A. Gonzalez, and it’s not abundantly clear how successful it was before that happened.

The district’s plan at present, however, seems similar: ditch positions through attrition and hack away at overtime, staff travel and unnecessary expenses wherever possible.

Leadership isn’t expecting help from the state, which it largely blames for its fiscal situation.

Trustees heard a bevy of potential stipend and position changes Monday, attrition being an underlying goal. The district isn’t looking at layoffs.

“I hope I’m not the only one that’s a little overwhelmed,” Trustee Erica de la Garza-Lopez said. “It seemed like it was great news at the beginning where we were gonna start in the black, and then surprise, we’re back in the red. And the state keeps pushing us down into the red further. So a lot of these changes are very painful, but I don’t know where else to get those funds.”

Superintendent René Gutiérrez said there is sort of a silver lining: McAllen ISD’s not alone.

“The state predicted this would happen to a lot of districts, to have a deficit budget,” he said. “That’s why they call it the ESSER cliff…We were supposed to be building up a fund balance and be prepared for life after ESSER, which is ending in September. So you’re gonna see most districts in a deficit. But we’re supposed to have a healthy fund balance to offset that deficit. It’s not unique to McAllen only, you’re gonna hear it a lot in the next coming months.”

For instance, Brownsville ISD, Gutiérrez’s previous district, is currently facing a $16 million budget deficit.

Gutiérrez described Monday’s presentation as preliminary and fluid, although a couple of proposals received particular attention.

The district’s ESSER-funded positions, of which there are 73, are going to be eliminated.

Those employees knew when they took them that they were funding-limited. Gutiérrez said the district will aim to keep those employees, if they want to stay, in other positions — though that’s not a guarantee.

The district also may eliminate its Options in Education Program at Lamar, a high school credit program that has about 90 students enrolled in it currently. Gutiérrez described it as a potential redundancy.

Monday’s budget workshop was not live streamed, despite that being the district’s general practice for the better part of a year and the board’s president attending remotely.

It’s not clear why McAllen ISD didn’t live stream the meeting.

The district had a YouTube link prepared for the workshop and posted on its website Monday, though that link was deleted before the meeting began.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Villarreal on February 21, 2024 at 10:19 am

    Why don’t they eliminate their redundancies at the top? IB, 1 Early College and another early college on the way? Wouldn’t it save money to keep those kids on their home campuses and not have to pay extra staff and facilities?

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