By Elsa Maxey
It looks like even though some Rainy Day funds may go to education, public schools will continue to be underfunded by almost $8 billion.
“Do no harm” messages will be conveyed to Austin legislators by the Fort Bend Independent School District as school representatives make plans to go to Austin on Saturday, April 30, “to be heard again,” said FBISD board president Sonal Bhuchar. Among the messages are dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, delay a new STAARS Accountability Program required of school districts, and make education a priority.
State legislators have been working at balancing their budget since January and they recently heard “It’s raining” chants from teachers, students and others from throughout the state carrying umbrellas in a “Save Texas Schools” march. They were pressing the use of the estimated $9.4 billion Rainy Day fund for its intended unexpected revenue shortfall use, which got a response, but only for about $2 billion of the fund, according to reports.
On Friday, FBISD announced the placement of “talking points” and other information to be updated weekly on its website, fortbendisd.com, about the budget for those wishing to call on their state representatives about public education cuts. Budget shortfalls discussed by the Texas Legislature are only about the Maintenance and Operations Budget, accounting for employee salaries and benefits, utilities, supplies and materials, according to FBISD.
Within the next few weeks, the board will begin its budget deliberations for the upcoming school year. It will take into account the elimination of 300 positions, those voluntary resignations with a 10 percent incentive package. “We may be forced to reduce some workforce positions and eliminate some programs to create the 2011-12 budget,” stated board president Bhuchar and some believe this may already be taking place.
A source tells the “Star” that Austin High School has been told its fine arts department will be subject to cuts. Ironically, the school’s marching band, part of the fine arts program, will have been honored on Monday by the school board for an impressive 9th place win out of about 90 bands in a recent completion.
Clements High School reportedly was also informed last week that it would be losing up to three positions in its fine arts department. For Austin High School, this may be more of an issue since those agitated by fine arts cuts say that the athletics department appears to remain untouched and yet it has a football team known for the most losses in the district. Arts against athletics may be a classic theme about to be revisited. At press time, the response for confirming these cuts by FBISD had not been received.
In the meantime, both staff and community members are being asked to stay informed by attending the district’s board budget workshops held before school board meetings.
Questions from the public continue to surface about whether any of the FBISD budget cutbacks will also apply to administrative positions. The school district said that it has now has a website posting with the breakdown of the 87 percent budget amount spent on salary and benefits by job category resulting from requests.
With the limited use of the Rainy Day fund as it now stands, reports indicate that it may look like lawmakers may have to cut items such as full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher incentive pay, and other school programs.
FBISD’s 2011-2012 school year budget must be approved by June 30.