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Metrocom: School budgets reflect ‘new normal’

Cost increases tied to COVID-19

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New academic-year budgets passed by Metrocom and northeast San Antonio school districts weigh how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting student enrollment, staffing and tax revenues.

Some officials predict future belt-tightening as the outbreak continues to influence high unemployment, foreclosures and business shutterings.

JUDSON ISD

The Judson Independent School District board on June 25 approved a $209.9 million general-fund budget for 2020-2021 — up $5 million over last school year.

Salaries and benefits climbed $4.28 million. Spending on co- and extra-curricular activities dropped from $4.76 million to $4.54 million.

JISD achieved about $2.26 million in savings, including a $1.43 million reduction in department allotments, and the elimination of certain allotments for new teachers.

Current teachers’ stipends are not affected.

One trustee asked what impact this would have on instructor recruitment.

“I don’t believe, at this time, that there’ll be a negative (effect),” Superintendent Jeanette Ball said. “We have a really good group of teacher candidates. The plan is always to go back when times get better, but I don’t think it’ll put the district in a hardship.”

JISD projects its total general-fund revenue at $206.4 million, up nearly 5% from 2019-2020. The district used part of its fund balance to put the budget back in the black.

JISD decreased its total property-tax rate from $1.37 per $100 valuation last year to $1.29, with the drop attributed to a reduction in the debt service part of the tax rate.

The owner of the average-valued home in Judson can expect to pay $57 more in taxes overall than last year.

District officials said assembling this year’s budget was challenging due to the outbreak’s effects on student enrollment and taxpayers.

JISD estimates total student attendance to drop slightly to 21,350 this year versus 21,645 in 2019-2020.

Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 academic calendar, there likely will be cuts in public-education funding and property taxes, with the latter driven by pandemic-induced foreclosures and business shutdowns, Chief Financial Officer Bill Atkins said.

Atkins also noted JISD, going forward, must consider costs associated with instruction and other items resulting from the outbreak, plus updating technology, and replacing an aging bus fleet, facilities and mechanical systems.

SCUCISD

Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District trustees met Aug. 27 to approve a $135.8 million general-fund budget.

The new budget increases instruction-related spending from about $80 million last year to $82.9 million this year.

SCUCISD’s plan opens six new positions, eliminates 27 others, and includes a step pay hike for teachers, librarians and nurses.

The district projects student enrollment of 15,804 this year, a slight drop from 15,925 in 2019-2020.

SCUCISD will levy a property-tax rate of $1.41 per $100 valuation. Last year’s figure was $1.42.

The owner of an average-valued district home will pay $109 more in taxes this year because net taxable values in SCUCISD have risen nearly 6% over last year.

SCUCISD projects $132.3 million in general-fund revenue.

Trustee Edward Finley commended the district’s staff for assembling a budget despite unknowns caused by the pandemic.

“This has been a difficult year all the way around,” he said. “The fact that we got here with a budget that’s as good as it is goes to show the good work, the hard work, that’s been done this year.”

NORTH EAST ISD

North East Independent School District adopted a $564.2 million general-fund budget, which contains a $6.74 million increase in instruction-related expenses.

This year’s overall general-fund budget is $4.6 million lower than last year’s allocation. NEISD is putting off pay raises.

However, the school board authorized Superintendent Sean Maika to decide in September whether to give employees retention bonuses.

District 6 Trustee Tony Jaso praised district staff for putting together a budget while being mindful of the uncertainties created by the outbreak.

“You guys do a great job given the variables you don’t have. You’ve positioned us the best way you can,” he said.

NEISD projects $553.5 million in general-fund revenue this year. The district dipped into its fund balance to equalize the new budget.

As of press time, NEISD was expected to set its property-tax rate at $1.27 per $100 valuation — almost 2 cents lower than 2019-2020.

The owner of an average-valued home in NEISD should expect to pay $117 more in taxes this school year.

COMAL ISD

Comal Independent School District’s $299.9 million general-fund budget includes $219.3 million for general operations — a 7.2% increase over similar 2019-2020.

CISD is set in September to consider a $1.28 per $100 valuation tax rate for the new school year, a decrease from $1.32.

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