The annual budget for a school district outlines how a district will allocate its resources to meet its mission and goals. It is a public document, developed through a public process that conveys how tax dollars - local, state and federal - are used to support the education of a community’s children. It is more than just a list of revenues and expenses. It is a statement of a district’s values and priorities.
It can, however, be difficult to figure out exactly how our school district allocates resources. The annual budget is a long and dense document. As I wrote in a previous article, school finance is complicated. Revenue comes from local, state and federal sources. Funds come into the district on differing schedules and some funds like grants or federal Title 1 and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funding are earmarked for specific activities or services. It is a challenge to get a clear understanding of just how these sources of funding are allocated across the district to support student learning and meet our goals. This is an issue that I and other board trustees have expressed concern about. We have asked our Financial Services and Business Operations department to find ways to provide the board and the public with more details about district spending that allows us to see how our spending supports our mission and goals.
Creating the SAISD budget is a long, complex process
Budget Timeline and opportunities for participation
Texas state law requires all school districts to prepare and adopt an annual budget. School districts like SAISD, with fiscal years that begin on July 1, are required to have their proposed budget finalized by June 19 so that the Board of Trustees can vote to adopt the budget by June 30. In order to meet the June 19 deadline, SAISD has begun our Fiscal Year 2022-2023 planning process. The process started with a budget update from our Financial Services and Business Operations department at the board meeting on February 15 and board budget workshop on February 26.
During these meetings, board members were provided with revenue projections based on the anticipated enrollment and average student daily attendance rates for next year. We were also briefed on a possible state revenue shortfall of $51,592,247 for this year. State funds make up slightly more than half of our district’s revenue.
We are allocated funds from the state based on the number of students who are enrolled in our schools and the average daily attendance rates of those students. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our enrollment and attendance rates. We had over twice as many cases of COVID among students and staff in the month of January than during the months of July and December combined. Prior to COVID, we could expect average attendance rates around 93%. Since the pandemic started, our average attendance has not been higher than 90%. At the height of the Omicron surge in January, average attendance dropped to 72%. The low rate of student attendance is the cause of over half of our projected revenue shortfall. School districts across the state are facing similar shortfalls. Given the statewide impact of the revenue shortfall, we are cautiously optimistic that Governor Abbott will do what he has done in past years of the pandemic and fund districts using pre-pandemic attendance rates. If he does this, our projected shortfall will shrink to $24,692,800 an amount we may be able to cover through cost savings and other budget offsets.
At this time, the board is scheduled to have three more budget updates, March 21, April 11 and May 9. During these meetings we will get up-to-date revenue projections, discuss possible cost-saving measures and have an opportunity to express our budget priorities. We are scheduled to vote on the budget on June 20. The budget updates and vote will all take place during scheduled board meetings which are open to the public and have a dedicated time for citizen comment - usually at the beginning of the meeting. All regular board meetings take place at SAISD’s central office building at 514 W. Quincy Street and start at 5:30 pm. Community members who are interested in addressing the board during the citizen comment period can sign up to speak before the meeting, between 4:30 and 5:30pm. Board meetings are also live streamed.
Sarah Sorensen is our district's representative on the SAISD Board of Trustees