08 Jun Plano School District Braces for Major Budget Cuts (TX)

June 8, 2010

By: Matthew Haag
Source: The Dallas Morning News

The Plano school district could face "significant" budget cuts starting in the 2011-12 school year if state funding stays flat and federal stimulus funds are discontinued, school officials told trustees Friday.

The officials said they will present a series of possible cuts – in personnel, programs and more – this fall that could total tens of millions of dollars. Plano ISD Superintendent Doug Otto warned trustees that the cuts could be the most severe in seven years.

"We try not to take your district there too often because it’s anguishing and painful for staff and parents," Otto said during a school district retreat at SMU-in-Plano. "It’s just very wearing."

Otto and other district leaders haven’t outlined specifics of the possible cuts. At issue is that millions of dollars in one-time stimulus funding the Plano school district is receiving this school year and next is set to expire. Big holes could surface when the federal money that helped districts dodge severe cuts ends next school year.

Plano ISD in recent years has tapped its savings to cover several shortfalls, including a projected $7 million shortfall next year. The district trimmed 3 percent from every department’s budget last school year and eliminated staff positions.

Unlike some districts, Plano ISD h as avoided a large layoff or tax-rate increases over the state-capped level, which require voter approval. But those efforts could be near, said Richard Matkin, the district’s associate superintendent for business services.

"If the Legislature doesn’t change the funding, one day PISD will have to have a tax election," he told trustees. "We are headed down that path."

Matkin said he wants to avoid a tax election and doesn’t want to wait to see if the state boosts school funding. Matkin and other district leaders will unveil a catalog of possible cuts in the fall for 2011-12 and the following school year. The proposals will include measures to take in a "worst-case scenario," he said.

The deepest cuts could reach tens of millions of dollars, which would still be a relatively small percentage of the district’s $462 million operating budget. However, nearly 80 percent of Plano ISD’s budget pays for employee salaries and benefits.

The last time the district implemented such cuts was in the 2003-2004 school year, when it eliminated hundreds of jobs through early retirement packages and contract terminations.

"This will be a difficult situation and will not get better quickly," Otto said.

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