When I came on board as superintendent, the finance department, the Board and I began holding conversations about district finances and possible future loses. Any extra monies were funneled into the fund balance but never did the district realize the deficit was going to be so extensive. The state recommends all districts across the state maintain at least 3 months of salaries for employees and operation and maintenance costs in case of an emergency, money to cover unexpected expenses, or money to cover cash flow deficits in the fall until property taxes are collected in January. The total for 3 months is about 10.5 million. Last year the district worked at a 4 million dollar deficit. This left the district dipping into fund balance to make up the difference. This year the district is facing a 6 million dollar deficit. The 2015-2016 budget was cut by about 3 million dollars by the superintendent and Board, but the district still has about a 4 million dollar deficit to contend with this school year. Given the situation in the community, and the fact companies may still move out of Alice, the local revenue the district will receive next year will, more than likely, be even less. Data indicates the district may be facing an even greater deficit in 2016-2017. Talk about the district in the community centers around positions being dissolved, extra days for employees being cut, budgets being decreased and what horrible people we are because of it. The monies coming in from the state, from ADA, and local tax base are less than what the district is spending. If steps are not taken to reduce the budget, and the district continues to spend money it doesn’t have, the fund balance will be depleted and the district will be broke. This is a simple concept. If you earn $2,000 per month, you have $1,000 in your savings account and you spend $2,500 per month, your savings account will be depleted in two months and you will no longer have a way to cover your expenses. You will have to adjust what you spend according to what you bring in. At the point the district has no money, the Texas Education Agency will step in and require that the district balance its budget—that the district operate within a budget that reflects the amount of money it is receiving. Under these circumstances many districts across the state have had to target extracurricular activities to save money because this is about the only option they have; this is where—aside from academics—the most money is spent via personnel, supplies and materials, fees, etc. In education across the state, in all districts, at all schools the priority is academics and not sports. And if we, in the district and community, do not treat academics as the priority and fail to meet state standards, we face many other challenges with the state, too, that may result in the same outcome—eliminating some extra-curricular programs. When the Board and I cut monies in the district, it is an attempt to save ALL of the programs that are currently in place in the district. We want to ensure the students who will be moving into the upper grades in the future have the same opportunities all other students have had--to become involved in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. The only way to do this is to minimize spending and balance to a point where the district is maintaining all programs—academic , sports, and others—within its budget. Again, we go back to simple arithmetic. The fund balance held 14.3 million in 2013-2014 (10.5 million of which the state recommends we maintain) and the district had to withdraw 2.3 million in 2014-2015 because of the deficit. Because of the continued shortfall, the district will have to dip into the fund balance in the amount of about 4 million in 2015-2016. At this point, the district would have already depleted the fund balance enough to maintain a fund balance that is less than what the state recommends. Yes, it is true that the state will grant us some monies the following year after local revenue losses, but it will not be enough. How much longer can the district go on at this rate and still maintain a good academic program and all extra- and co-curricular activities? Not very long. When individuals do the math they will understand the superintendent and the Board have many very difficult decisions to make this year and in the future where the budget is concerned—decisions that may not be popular but are necessary. Many of these decisions we, ourselves, may not favor because they are heartbreaking, but that doesn’t change the reality that the district doesn’t have the money to continue as it has in past years. And so we move forward attempting to ensure a variety of programs for our students. Staff, administration and board members have become more frugal when it comes to spending.
One way parents can help us reduce this deficit, as well as maintain all extra-curricular programs for the district in the future, is to ensure their kids are in school on a daily basis. Businesses and community members can also become involved by reporting kids—those they see during normal classroom hours--to the district or local authorities. Improving attendance needs to be a community-wide project and not just a parent issue, as this is of the utmost importance. We need everyone’s help. Since 2002 the district has been maintaining about a 92% attendance rate—3% lower than the state average. The school district has lost millions of dollars since then. An increase of 3-4 percent in the attendance rate will generate a million dollars or more a year for Alice ISD. This initiative could be a commitment to all children of the district to maintain the programs that support academics in so many ways. Fine arts as well as sports are key elements to ensuring students learn the qualities of hard work, commitment, dedication, team work, sacrifice, etc. as well as develop a sense of self-worth. These are essential to the development of well-rounded, successful students.
I give thanks to the employees of the District who continue to work so very hard no matter what and community members and parents who continue to support us in our plight to make things better. I am grateful and honored to be the Superintendent of Schools for Alice ISD. This is a great community with wonderful people.
Dr. Grace Everett
Superintendent of Schools