DISD town-hall meeting offers budget insight, yields more questions

The first of four DISD town-hall meetings convened Thursday night at Walnut Hill Elementary, an uncommon move by the district to involve the community in discussing the 2010-11 budget.

Chief Financial Officer Larry Throm led the conversation, noting that, “School districts are relatively constant. That’s exactly the situation today.” He said that’s because enrollment numbers have remained the same, and no new dollars are flowing in from the state.

Despite that, the district plans to open five new schools by the 2011-12 school year and six more by 2012-13. And yes, with no new dollars flowing in.

So, the question that almost knocked the wind out of some staff members and trustees: Why do we open schools that we can’t pay for? Throm’s response was simple: inflation. If we don’t do it now, we’ll never be able to afford in the future. District 1 trustee Edwin Flores added that students aren’t evenly dispersed across the district, and they must build where there’s growth. And when you’ve got schools with 30 some-odd portables, our students deserve better, he said. “We need state-of-the-art facilities.”

Of course, the question of an inevitable tax hike came up, and Flores answered, saying the board just can’t tell at this point. And other board members agreed that it would be pretty dang hard to raise taxes since passing the district’s largest-ever $1.3 billion bond in 2008.

Also, DISD has a target revenue of $5,249, situated at the lower end of the spectrum which ranges from about $4,800 to $8,900 statewide. Throm said, “It’s a travesty,” but declined to address why that’s the case.

The budget must be adopted by July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

BY THE NUMBERS

– The district serves about 155,000 students, and on any given day, 13,000 don’t show up. There are more than 20,000 teachers.

– 85 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

– Most of the general operating funds come from local revenues at about 61 percent. Most is funneled into payroll costs.


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