Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Plugging RISD's Budget Hole

Source: H/T DALL-E

At the Dec.14 regular meeting, [Richardson ISD] trustees received operating budget recommendations from the Community Budget Steering Committee, which has been meeting for six months to arrive at measures the district can consider to address a significant operating shortfall in the 2024-25 budget.

First, let me compliment RISD for creating a Community Budget Steering Committee. Inclusion of the community is important for a problem like this. Keep it up. Keep spreading the word to make future community committees ever more inclusive.

Now let's look at the community recommendations:

Major recommendations include:

  1. Consolidation of some elementary schools. RISD operates the least efficient elementary school model among peer districts and currently has more than 9,000 open elementary seats.
  2. Opening enrollment to families residing outside RISD boundaries. Schools with excess capacity could serve families residing near district boundaries to increase enrollment, while prioritizing enrollment of families within the district.
  3. Placing a 3 cent maintenance & operating tax-rate increase election before RISD voters. Under state law, the district’s operating tax rate dropped more than 17 cents this year and is currently at its lowest level since 1984-85 (39 years).
  4. Further cuts in central and support departments. RISD reduced spending by $14.4 million last year, primarily from areas that didn’t directly impact classrooms.
  5. Implementing a new staffing framework to ensure efficient allocations and operations.

Here are my instantaneous, off-the-top-of-my-head reactions to the committee's recommendations.

  1. School closures. This is the third rail of local school politics. Touch it and you die. The superintendent and some school board trustees could lose their jobs over school closures. But that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. Having it be a recommendation from a community committee might give RISD administrators some cover. Take it.
  2. Put butts in the seats. Improving test scores to keep families from pulling their kids out of RISD would help, but even that might not do it, if families are pulling their kids out of RISD schools for other reasons. Which, let's face it, some are. Given all that, opening enrollment to families outside RISD seems like a reasonable way to fill empty seats. RISD still has some cachet in the region.
  3. Raising taxes. Taxes are how we pay for things we want. Except the Angie Chen Button is bragging how the legislature passed "the largest property tax cut in the history of any state." Angie Chen Button is also bragging how she passed a law that "increased school funding." She wants us to believe she has the magic power to both cut taxes and increase school funding at the same time. So, RISD immediately asking voters to approve a local tax increase risks a rejection at the ballot box. Maybe get Angie Chen Button to endorse a "Yes" vote on raising taxes. Good luck with that. Otherwise, this option probably should drop to the bottom of the list.
  4. Cutting overhead. Sounds obvious until you realize that everything except teachers in classrooms is "overhead." Still, you can't keep people on staff if you don't have the money to pay them. And if you can't increase funding, you have no choice but to cut costs. And if those costs are people, that could set in motion a death spiral for RISD. Families abandoning RISD because of perceived problems; problems get worse because of fewer people working on them; even more people leave. Worse, conservative extremists in Austin might see a public school death spiral as a welcome side benefit to all this.
  5. "Implementing a new staffing framework to ensure efficient allocations and operations." I don't know what this means. Efficiency improvement is something RISD, like all organizations, should do all along. Maybe the community committee sees something significant that we all missed all this time. I'm eager to hear what this could be.

"Budget shortfall looms.
Committee's voice sounds warning,
Schools' fate lies in change."

—h/t ChatGPT


Justin Neth said...

Does Richardson ISD have an absence review board? Plano ISD has apparently found a cost effective way to to reduce truancy in an effort to get students in seats.

Mark Steger said...

On Facebook, former trustee Kris Oliver, offers helpful feedback (to me) and useful suggestions (to RISD):

"School closures are long overdue; operating significantly smaller elementary schools than our peers is no longer a luxury we can afford. My sincere hope is that the district takes a thoughtful approach that will increase socio-economic diversity (and thereby student performance) rather than just taking the path of least resistance. An honest assessment of our magnet programs and their impact on enrollment patterns also needs to be included in the planning.

"I suspect the "new staffing framework" primarily means requiring secondary teachers to teach 6 of 7 periods (as most districts currently do) rather than their current workload of 5 periods. Unfortunate, but probably no realistic alternative here given the current funding realities.

"One thing missing from the discussion that I'd like to see is how the district could gain more outcomes-based funding from HB3 for CCMR readiness, teacher incentive allotment, etc."