Cleburne Superintendent Dr. Ronny Beard would like to be able to guarantee Cleburne ISD won’t experience a reduction in force such as the Aledo, Crowley, Keller and Rio Vista school districts.
“We have to develop a budget next year that is not going to be in the red,” Beard said Monday. “It has to be a budget that will allow us to operate with revenues that we expect. If it gets to the point we cannot do that without reducing our faculty and staff, we will have to do a RIF as well.
“What I can guarantee is it will not be a huge multiperson RIF as it has been in other schools because we’ve already eliminated so many positions by attrition.”
A RIF is what it suggests, the firing of teachers and staff on contract to meet payroll.
Rio Vista cut 11 teachers in its RIF last December. That translated to about $480,000, which helped the district pay off a loan.
Cleburne may not know until this June if it will have to call a RIF, Beard said.
“The determining factor will be whether we have sufficient numbers of employees leave in positions we can absorb. We’re liable not to know that until June. The other thing is we have to end this year in the black, and I think we’re going to do that with cuts we’ve made.”
RIFs are not created equal. They can be large or small. They can be for different reasons.
But most are tied to the Texas Legislature’s change in the school funding formula beginning with the 2007-08 school year. House Bill 1 assured that most state revenues would be tied to student enrollment.
“What happened was a lot of bad luck for some districts,” Beard said. “School finance blindsided some schools. Crowley, and maybe Keller and Aledo, are examples of districts that built some schools right when maintenance funds from the state were dramatically changed.
“Revenues created by property values went away. House Bill 1 said, ‘We’re going to fund you to this point, but if your local revenues increase beyond this point, we’re going to keep [that money].’ Anybody that built new schools and depended on state funding to remain the same was blindsided.”
That impacted Cleburne less than surrounding districts.
“We didn’t get caught with a building program,” Beard said. “We weren’t in the middle of a bond project. We were just finishing one. Also, when I came in, one of the things we undertook was a staffing study from [Texas Association of School Boards] that said we had to reduce our staff by $2.7 million. We reduced right at $1.5 million worth. That was by attrition. We didn’t let anybody go. We just didn’t replace that many jobs.
“There’s a lot of luck involved. Crowley, Aledo and Keller were unlucky, and we may be lucky.”
Cleburne ISD has also helped itself by reducing spending, Beard said.
“We’ve cut off all spending that’s nonessential this year. We have to end this year in the black. In order to do that, we’ve done away with travel. We’ve put a freeze on hiring. We’ve asked all our campus principals to go through their budgets and find amounts of money not to use. They’ve done that. Everybody in this district is working very hard to avoid a RIF.”
“Randy Stone (human resources director) is charting everyone who leaves to see whether we can replace that person from within, whether it’s a person we have to replace, or whether it’s a position we could absorb,” said Chief Financial Officer David Johnson.
“We can reassign teachers, and we will if we have to,” Beard said. “We’ve evaluated all the campuses, and there are a total of four teachers we would not have to replace at the elementaries. We’ll watch that closely, but we’re not going to do anything to hinder our ability to be successful.”
Success is relative. Cleburne could operate a leaner and meaner school district.
“What we’re expected to do now and what was expected 40 years ago are daylight and dark,” Beard said. “It depends on what you want and the purpose of public education. If it’s the three R’s, you can be a lot more efficient with a lot less funds. But if you want us to create schools that are world class in math and science, that’s very expensive. It depends on what you want.”
Districts must by law be responsive to state mandates, many of which are unfunded.
“It puts a financial burden on schools when the state keeps adding programs,” Beard said. “The state wants to add another one [this year] that we’re going to protest. It’s another level of [public education information management system]. It will require us to purchase expensive software and very likely add another person to the PEIMS department at Central Office.
“That’s while a lot of schools are looking at a RIF. That’s a disconnect, right?”
How long can the state dole out unfunded mandates?
“Until someone gets in such a bind that it forces the issue, and the public is ready to address whatever it takes to fix it,” Beard said.
Shuttered schools in Detroit and Kansas City should serve as a wake-up call for Texas districts, Beard said.
“Whenever you have an economic crash, funds for public entities decline, and that forces people to operate in a more efficient manner to achieve the same goals. If the economy springs back, we may look at all this and say it wasn’t that important. If it continues on a downturn, society is going to have to take a second look at how we finance public education.”