A decline of roughly 200 students is creating some financial challenges for Hardin ISD and may result in a reduction of staff, according to Hardin ISD administrators.
Last week, the District’s board of trustees approved a declaration of financial exigency with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to alert the state agency that the District is facing a significant financial shortfall. The District now meets two of the six requirements for financial exigency – a decline in enrollment by more than 10 percent over the last five years and a decrease of more than 20 percent in unassigned general fund balance per student.
Both factors go hand in hand since state funding for school districts is based on student enrollment numbers. As the number of students decreases, so does funding. State funding is roughly $6,100 per student on average. In Hardin ISD’s case, the loss of 200 students equates to roughly $1.2 million in lost annual revenue.
According to Superintendent Scott Mackey, the COVID-19 pandemic created a perfect storm for Hardin ISD and other school districts when parents, trying to keep their children safe from the illness, began homeschooling their children.
Even though active COVID-19 cases are rapidly declining, parents still haven’t returned their children to public schools. The Texas Association of Rural Schools shows state enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year has decreased by 122,350, according to Chris Contreras, assistant to the superintendent.
As the plan to address Hardin ISD’s financial shortfall likely means a reduction in staff, Mackey, Contreras and other district administrators have held staff meetings on all campuses to apprise them of the situation. The last of the meetings will take place after the Thanksgiving holiday with maintenance, transportation and custodial workers.
Salaries and benefits make up the majority of the expenses for any school district. For Hardin ISD, it equates to 79 percent of the budget.
“Out of a $13 million budget, a little more than $10 million goes to salaries and benefits,” said Contreras. “The biggest way we can address the problems we are facing is with a reduction in force.”
Mackey, the school board and administrators are now developing a plan to review all positions and programs before decisions will be made about which positions to eliminate and which programs will be impacted.
“We are looking at what positions and programs can be combined to save on staffing. For example, we are looking at whether we have two people assigned to a program and if that can be combined so that one staff member can take care of it,” Mackey said. “I don’t see us cutting any total program but I can see us making a cut within the program.”
Already, the District has cut eight library aide positions. Those employees were terminated earlier this month. More aide positions will likely be on the chopping block. District leaders in January will begin meeting with employees whose positions will be cut before the 2022-2023 school year. Most will be allowed to remain through the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
“The positions cut will be across the board. We are looking at teachers, auxiliary, athletics, every department,” Mackey said.
Adding to the financial challenges, the District’s funding from the state prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was based on higher enrollment numbers. This meant that the District last year was “overpaid” by the state to the tune of $1 million, money that was cut from this year’s funding and will continue to be cut until enrollment is back to pre-pandemic numbers.
“Basically, last year, TEA paid us a million more than they were supposed to based on the number of students we were supposed to have. Now they have taken that million away, so within a year’s time frame, we have lost $2 million in state funding,” Mackey said.
Despite the challenges, Contreras said, “Hardin ISD is not broke.”
“The financial exigency just tells TEA that we need permission to take some drastic steps to remediate that. We are letting them know we have a problem and want their permission to take care of it,” he said.
The District is also considering if a 4-day school week will decrease expenses, but based on the results of other school districts that have made that shift, the cost savings is negligible, Mackey and Contreras said.
“It’s a morale booster more than anything else,” said Mackey.
The decline in enrollment will likely be a factor as to whether or not Hardin ISD remains classified as a 3A district or drops to 2A.
“It’s going to be very close. We are within 5-10 students of going either way,” Mackey said.