New school budget racks up $405,000 deficit

MARFA — Marfa schools will spend an estimated $405,158 more than they make this year, according to the 2019-2020 budget approved by the Marfa School Board in a split 5-2 vote Monday evening.

Bianca Gonzalez, the district’s business specialist, slashed over $200,000 from last year’s budget, but still could not reach a balanced outcome for 2019-2020.

Gonzalez cited recent state legislation as the primary reason the school struggled to create a balanced budget this year. House Bill 3 compressed the school district’s tax rate, resulting in less revenue for the district than the previous year. It also rearranged available state funding and mandated salary raises for teachers.

The school’s new budget will have to rely on reserve funds to make ends meet, further depleting the district’s $2.8 million cushion of savings.

Board President Katie Price Fowlkes told Gonzalez at Monday’s meeting that she was disappointed with the proposal, “because I asked what a balanced budget would look like.”

Gonzalez responded that there wasn’t time to create a balanced budget proposal in addition to the one being considered. A balanced budget proposal would have needed to slash $600,000 in expenses compared to last year’s budget.

MISD Superintendent Oscar Aguero defended Gonzalez, telling the board, “The only way we could have done a balanced budget was cutting at least seven positions,” including layoffs of core academic teachers. 62% of the school’s entire budget goes toward payroll costs.

Aguero drew the line at cutting academics, which could compromise the progress the schools have made under his tenure.

When Aguero began as superintendent five and a half years ago, the school had an F rating from the Texas Education Agency. Last year the school achieved an 87, a B rating, and Aguero is hoping to finally earn an A this year.

It was too late for a balanced budget anyhow; the school had already offered contracts to its teachers for the year, and the board had approved raises for teachers, with some salaries climbing higher than the mandatory raises HB 3 required. A balanced budget was out of reach.

“Everywhere we could take some money out, we did,” Aguero told the board.

“I’m not ever going to support cutting academics when we’re moving the needle in the right direction,” Price Fowlkes agreed, “but we have to do that work to look at what it looks like to manage a balanced budget.”

“But I also know Bianca and Oscar have pulled their hair out trying to work with House Bill 3,” she acknowledged.

Despite the concession, when board Secretary Teresa Nuñez moved to approve the budget, Price Fowlkes and board member Shawn Brugette voted against approving the budget. Board members Mark Cash, Lori Flores, Yolanda Jurardo and David Walstrom joined Nuñez in the majority, passing the unbalanced MISD preliminary fiscal budget.

Fowlkes said her vote against the budget was symbolic, stating, “I truly feel we need to do better.”

At Monday’s meeting the board also approved the compressed tax rate – required by HB 3 – which will result in lower tax revenues for Maintenance and Operations this year.

Aguero reminded the board that the estimated revenues on the budget are “worst case scenario,” and that the schools are hoping their conservative revenue estimates are wrong. The state is still making adjustments to HB 3 and new calculations might yield more income for the schools than they have planned to receive.