30 Mar Lt. Gov Says Texas Senate Has Plan to Save School Funding Using Non-Tax Money (TX)

March 30, 2011

By: Mike Roark
Source: Abilene Reporter-News

Abilene ISD Superintendent Heath Burns is pleased to hear a little bit of good news coming out of Austin.

Burns said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced that spending on public education can be maintained, and even increased, in the next two-year budget, despite a huge budget shortfall.

The Republican lieutenant governor’s vision is a far cry from the severe cuts to public education and Medicaid called for in the House. Lawmakers in that chamber have been looking for ways to address a projected shortfall of as much as $27 billion by heavily cutting the budget.

The Legislature’s final budget will cut at least $8 billion to $10 billion from current spending to balance the budget and &am p;quot;to keep us from falling off a fiscal cliff in the 2013 session," Dewhurst told the Reporter-News on Monday. "Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that we will find enough savings and nontax revenue to adequately fund our top priorities, such as public education, without raising taxes."

Dewhurst recently announced the formation of a special committee aimed at finding nontax revenue to help plug the budget hole. He said staggering cuts can be avoided by selling state land, reducing certain expenses and raising other revenue but not increasing taxes.

"We can still fund education … at the same appropriated level we’re funding right this second, actually higher," he said late last week.

Burns said Dewhurst is taking the position that there may be gains in revenues over the next two years.

"I pray that we get more money than anticipated," Burns said.

Burns said he remains hopeful but is mindful of how difficult the local budget process will be if budget cuts from the state run too deep.

If the House version is passed, with millions cut in education funding, the Abilene school district may lose more teachers than expected.

The district has 172 teachers and other employees who have said they won’t return next year under the early notification of departure plan that paid bonuses for giving an early notice.

A second phase of that early departure plan is in place, but for district employees to receive a bonus, the school board must approve the plan at its April 4 meeting.

Burns pointed out that further cuts in staffing would b e to probationary teachers in special education and in areas like music and physical education.

Burns said the district has found about $7 million in cost savings up to this point.

However, the plan at this moment from the House would mean a cut of about $800 in funding per student.

With around 16,000 students in the district, that equates to about $12.8 million in lost funding each year of the biennium.

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