No money, more problems
As the Beaumont Independent School District Board of Trustees prepares for its final budget meeting before adopting a fiscal plan for the coming school year, the agency is looking to fill a deficiency in the millions. Prior budget meetings have failed to elicit a meeting of the minds on how to cover the anticipated shortfall.
Meeting 1 – Bare bones
May 30, the BISD Board of Trustees first met to address the school district’s budget for the 2013 school year. At that time, it was revealed that to continue on the district’s current course of operation, the board would need to dip into its already depleting reserve fund to the tune of more than $11 million.
“We will be looking at the possibility of consolidating some buildings – we’re not projecting to raise taxes, and we’re not projecting to lay any people off,” BISD Superintendent Dr. Timothy Chargois reported. “We are trying to be diligent in using taxpayer dollars.”
Among some of the cuts that were recommended by administration were educational programs, full-time employee equivalents, holiday and incentive pay. Even then, the school district was looking at dipping into the reserve funds more than $5 million.
“If we cut things, we need to cut things that affect the employees and not the students’ educational needs,” said BISD Trustee Tom Neild. “This budget is loaded with travel expenses, conferences, and things like that. That seems like a good place to start to cut.”
Neild asked for a breakdown of expenses so he could make an informed decision of where cuts could be least felt by district pupils. Finance director Devin McCraney advised that a more comprehensive budget would be provided to the school board trustees at a subsequent meeting to be conducted June 6.
Meeting 2 – Distracted
An audience member’s possession of The Examiner newspaper prompted the BISD Board of Trustees to end its scheduled budget meeting shortly after the meeting commenced Thursday, June 6. Trustees and audience members had braved the inclement weather to attend the posted meeting, which was scheduled to allow the elected leaders of the school board to chop away at an upcoming budget deficit, which could ultimately cost teachers their jobs, or necessitate a tax increase. Still, talks of how to handle the school district’s finances would have to wait since some board members were so offended by an audience member silently reading the newspaper that the meeting had to be shut down.
“It’s very distracting,” District 2 Trustee Zenobia Bush said. “If he wants to read and hold it in the air, he will need to move to the back.”
The audience member reading the newspaper, Beaumont City Councilman and local attorney Mike Getz, didn’t immediately move from his seat. A BISD police officer was called to escort Getz to the back of the building and/or outside, but again, the lawyer questioned the legality and reason for any such move.
“I’m not going outside; I’m listening to the meeting while I’m reading my newspaper,” Getz said.
At that point, BISD Board President Woodrow Reece voiced the opinion that if Getz would not go willingly, Getz would go in handcuffs.
“Have the officer do his job,” Reece instructed. The officer continued to plead with Getz to leave willingly, and after several minutes of dialogue the board of trustees elected to close the meeting in lieu of continuing the confrontation.
Before closing the meeting, however, Reece added that he was looking into sanctions and charges against two board members for visiting BISD campuses without a district escort and meeting with unspecified elected officials.
“If one or two members think they’re going to overrule the board majority, they can think again,” Reece said.
One or two board members took exception to Reece’s remarks.
“The arrogance – what are you, the king?” Trustee Neild asked of Reece. “You can’t show me anywhere where we, as individuals, cannot seek counsel and the opinion of our elected leaders. There’s not a person on this board who’s going to tell me where I can go and who I can see.”
With that, the meeting was adjourned. After the meeting, Getz said he wasn’t trying to be difficult and couldn’t understand why his quiet reading caused such a stir.
Meeting 3 – To be determined
As requested by Trustee Neild in the May 30 board budget meeting, a detailed breakdown of district expenses was provided by McCraney. Neild has since made note of multiple items where expense reduction could be attained. The board trustee was not able to address his concerns in the June 6 meeting but said he hopes to have an opportunity to be heard during the school board’s Thursday, June 13, scheduled budget meeting.
In the proposed budget, $250,000 is reserved for Central High School band uniforms priced at $1,000 apiece, more than $1 million funded in campus travel expenses, $155,000 for a special education “fiscal agent,” nearly $250,000 for playoff travel for employees and students, hundreds of thousands of dollars designated for legal services, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more allotted for administrator travel expenses and subsistence reimbursements.
Trustee Mike Neil said he also hopes talks of a balanced budget come to fruition June 13.
“I think we can whittle and whittle and come up with a budget where we won’t have to dip into our reserves,” Neil said. “It’s a tough deal, but we need to find a way to pull these millions of dollars out without going down anymore than we already have.
“I, for one, am in favor of a balanced budget – however we need to do it.”
A late addition to the June 13 budget meeting included many items up for board review that have little, if nothing, to do with a balanced budget. Among the items which will be discussed at the June 13 “budget meeting” include a public grievance against a board trustee, a private grievance of BISD Police Officer Charlie Porter, consideration of acquiring “School Leaders Professional Liability Insurance,” entering a contract for legal services from attorney Heather Rutland with the law firm of Eichelbaum Wardell, swapping out redistricting Map 7B for that of Map 7I, hiring Michael McDonald to work on Map 7B, and hiring Larry Simmons with the law firm of Germer & Gertz “to conduct nonrenewal hearing(s).”