As McKinney’s students walk through the doors of their schools for the first time in the new school year, their minds are probably racing. They are probably concerned with finding their classes, who they sit next to at lunch, meeting their new teachers, catching up with their friends after a summer apart and getting the school year started on the right foot.
What they probably aren’t thinking about is how all of this gets paid for. But that’s a very serious concern for their parents and everyone else who lives within McKinney ISD’s boundaries. That’s because MISD is facing a budget deficit of nearly $11 million.
And in less than a month, McKinney residents will have the opportunity to go to the polls and decide if they’re willing to pay more to fund children’s education. On Sept. 21, McKinney will hold a tax ratification election, commonly known as a TRE.
According to the MISD administrators and school board, the TRE is necessary to help balance the district’s 2013-2014 budget and allow MISD to continue to provide a quality education for its students. If the TRE doesn’t pass, then MISD would be forced to make massive cuts to their budget.
MISD Superintendent Dr. J.D. Kennedy recently sat down with TownSquareBuzz.com for a lengthy interview on this subject.
“When you’re cutting that much, you’re going to have to look at everything,” Kennedy told TSB. We’re going to have to look at every program. We’re going to have to look at class sizes. We’re going to have to look at where can we least impact the learning that’s going on in the classroom if we do these cuts.
“It’s going to impact what we can do in the classroom. We will have larger class sizes. We will have fewer teachers. We will have fewer personnel carrying out functions. There’s just no way you can get around it.”
Kennedy told TSB that the district’s budget shortfall is due to a reduction in the amount of funding provided by the state. “In the 2011 legislative session, the state legislature cut funds for public education,” Kennedy said. “For our school district, it totaled a cut of about $15 million during that two-year period.”
Kennedy said that cutting that much from their budget was difficult and resulted in the loss of 134 positions. “Eleven percent of those cuts were in administration and four percent from the teaching staff,” he said. “And we didn’t cut any deeper because we felt like we were really starting to affect the quality of the education.”
To make up for the loss of funding, Kennedy said that MISD dipped into their fund balance to fund their operations for the last two years. He said that MISD did this with hoping that the state legislature would address school funding in their recent sessions and restore the funding that they had taken away from schools.
“They (the state legislature) restored the funding statewide by about 60 percent, but only about 20 percent of the funding was restored to MISD,” Kennedy said. “So that meant we were still in the hole $11 million in terms of state revenue compared to what we were getting before 2011.”
Kennedy said that the discrepancy in the restored funding comes from the state’s target revenue system. “Back in 2005-2006, the state developed a target revenue system, where they decided whatever you spent in 2005-2006 is how much you’re going to get in the future,” Kennedy said. “And so, if a school district happened to decide to reroof their buildings in 2005-2006, they couldn’t have found a better time to do it. Because from that point forward, they’re getting that money from the state every year.”
Kennedy said that now, between their dwindling fund balance and the state’s inequitable funding practices, the district is faced with a very tough choice. “We now either have to approve increasing the revenue or cutting the revenue,” he said. “That’s basically what we’re facing.”
“We now either have to approve increasing the revenue or cutting the revenue. That’s basically what we’re facing.” – MISD Superintendent Dr. JD Kennedy
Kennedy said that MISD cannot continue using the fund balance to make up for the budget shortfall. “The difference (between 2011 and now) is we can no longer go to the well as far as the fund balance. We can’t continue doing that.”
Kennedy said keeping a healthy fund balance is important to maintain a good credit rating for the district as well as having cash on hand to cover the first few months of the school year. “We have a cash flow issue in public schools in that we don’t start receiving our money from local taxpayers until December,” he said. “So the months of November and October, you’ve got to have some money in the fund balance to meet payroll. Or you’ll have to go to the bank and borrow money and that’s why you’ve got to keep the money in there to make payroll.”
Kennedy said that the amount of funding that school districts receive from the state is directly tied to the district’s tax rate. “They have rewarded those districts that have made an effort in their taxation by passing a TRE and taxing at a maximum level,” he said. So that means if McKinney’s voters pass the TRE, MISD gets more money from the state. Kennedy said this two-pronged approach of funding would get MISD back to a healthy budget position.
Kennedy said that if the TRE does pass, it will bring MISD’s spending per student to the middle of the pack in Collin County. Currently, MISD ranks second from the bottom in spending per student. Plano is the only school district that spends less per student. Plano is also holding a TRE vote in November.
Kennedy said that if the voters do not pass the TRE, then the district would be forced to cut back in many areas. And unlike in 2011, those cuts will most likely be felt in the classroom. “That means increased class sizes and looking at the career and technology programs that we provide at this time,” he said. “We may not be able to keep those going forward. We’ve looked at bringing in a Marines ROTC program at one of our schools. There’s no way that that is going to be considered if this thing does not pass.
“We have a great aviation program, a logistics program. We’re looking at expanding into truck driving and transportation. Those things would certainly be examined and would probably not be able to do those things. That will have an impact on what we’re able to deliver to our students. I think we’ll have to look at the gifted and talented program and how we do that. Nursing services, counseling services…we’d have to look at administration at the campus and district level. Every area will be examined.”
Kennedy said the district may be forced to cut 290 positions if the TRE does not pass.
Kennedy also said that “pay to play” could be considered for athletics and fine arts programs.
Kennedy said he has heard from many residents who oppose the TRE. A common complaint is the amount of administrators that MISD employees. “We are under the state average as far as administrative costs,” he said. “And we are above the state average on what we spend in the classroom. If we laid off every single campus administrator, including the principals, we would still have to an additional $5 million out of the budget.”
Kennedy regards the TRE as a necessary step to continue the growth of MISD. He sees a fourth high school, multiple middle and elementary schools and even a new football stadium in MISD’s future. But first on the agenda is getting the budget in order. “I feel that we’re not really asking for money to expand programs,” he said. “We’re just asking for money to maintain what we’re doing, because, and I feel like we’ve done a good job.
“I’ve been here four years now. One thing that really impresses me is the true sense of family. If you talk to teachers or administrators, that seems to be a common thread. I haven’t heard that in every place that I’ve been. There’s just a real sense of community and doing whatever it takes to benefit the child.”
Kennedy said his philosophy is to ask, “Have we as educators prepared our students with confidence, character, knowledge and the skills to be successful?” Kennedy said that is the driving force for MISD’s educators. “It’s not just the test scores. It’s the total child. And I think that’s really important.”
And it will soon be in the hands of the voters to decide. “We’re going to the voters to allow them to tell us do we keep going with the programs we have or do we make cuts,” Kennedy said. “I cannot go out say vote yes or vote no. All I can say is that this is the situation we’re dealing with and each family has to make the decision of what is the best for their family. We have to look at the overall quality of life and what attracts people to this community. There’s a reason why we’re the second best place to live in the country. And I really do believe we are. This is a tremendous community.
“I think every citizen needs to look at the situation and see how we are compared to other school districts. And then make a decision for themselves on this.”