• message from the superintendent

  • Budget Challenges

    Posted by Doug Killian, Ph.D. on 5/1/2024 5:00:00 PM

    Dear CFISD Community:

    It is with a heavy heart I write this month’s message to our CFISD community. As you know, I briefly outlined our 2024-2025 budget picture in February and sought your feedback as we navigate these challenges. Thank you for all your suggestions–we received 1,200 responses, many with ideas we ultimately used. We relayed these to our Budget Reduction Advisory Committee (BRAC), which met several times this spring to develop recommendations. Believing in site-based decision-making, we also asked stakeholders, including department heads and campus principals, what they thought of the ideas.

    I wanted to update you on where we are currently in the budget planning process. As I previously shared with our Board of Trustees, the projected budget deficit is approximately $138 million for 2024-2025. We are looking to reduce approximately one-third of our deficit and have money for a raise. We have already heard that surrounding districts are providing a raise and that our state TRS healthcare insurance will increase for staff next school year. The deadline for the Board to pass a budget is July 1.

    With this deadline quickly approaching, we began notifying employees at the central office. This is where our cuts started. In fact, the first cuts were 5% at all central office and districtwide departments, followed by an additional 2.5% cut, when we realized the impact to campuses would be deeper than initially expected. With the fourth-lowest administrative cost ratio in the state, our district’s efficiency is working against us–making it impossible to reach our target amount without touching campuses or departments. Many of the decisions we are facing will have a negative impact on staff and/or the district, and for that, I am so sorry.

    How we got here

    There are a myriad of factors contributing to our deficit budget.

    • Since the 2019-2020 school year, the district has experienced a decline in average daily student attendance, which has cost the district an estimated $15 million annually. Attendance is down after the pandemic, causing us to lose funding, but we still have costs associated with classrooms, teachers, and schools.  This is an area where we need your help.
    • The 20% Local Optional Homestead Exemption (LOHE) we have offered as a benefit for CFISD taxpayers since 1983 continues to create budget challenges. We estimate a loss of $63 million annually in tax collections from the LOHE. We love our taxpayers, and have shown that love for more than 40 years. Our local legislators appreciate that, and are seeking to help make up that funding for such a low-cost administrative district that cares about tax relief. Please appreciate their support and any effort they are able to bring to bear on our issue. They are behind us. We need this funded.
    • The state legislature increased the school safety allotment from $1.04 million to $2.3 million to try and help; however, our actual costs for CFISD safety and security initiatives amount to $51 million yearly. Both our district and our legislative delegation believe in supporting school safety. They have put money behind it. We just need more as we are a proactive district that wants to provide the safest environment possible.
    • Yet another budget challenge comes with our special education allotment. The federal government has tremendous special education rules and regulations, and provides little funding to implement them. Our state has recognized this issue and provided makeup funds to help. We receive $88 million from the state, but our actual costs amount to $138.5 million. Our legislature has identified this as an issue caused by the federal government. The CFISD local general operating budget covers the $50 million gap. If we could move the federal government to fund the gap or our state could help more with the exploding costs, it could help us address the needs of our rapidly growing special education population.
    • Record inflation of 19% since 2019 has increased costs. We have not gone to our voters to increase revenue to make up the difference, but the state has funded property tax relief.
    • Finally, the 2024 expiration of federal stimulus funding (ESSER funds) eliminated a funding source that has helped offset the deficit for the last three budget cycles, which ends in September, leaving us with an additional funding hole.

    Where we are

    I want to preface that these are painful conversations for everyone in the district, from the Board to the BRAC to the campuses. In a service-oriented industry like ours, where 90% of our budget is staff, we are relegated to reducing costs in this area after already reducing over $14 million in non-personnel areas. Again, since CFISD maintains the fourth-lowest administrative cost ratio in the state, there are not many additional administrative cuts that will significantly impact our budget. In fact, if we eliminate all central staff (including HR, Payroll, benefits, technology, curriculum support, and every hourly support staff), plus all the campus administration and instructional support, we would not make up our projected deficit. We have already committed to using some of our fund balance to minimize the impact this year. Still, we must maintain a safety net in the fund balance to make payroll for the first four months of the school year until property tax receipts start coming in.

    The Budget Workshop on April 22 was an opportunity for our Board to hear recommendations from the BRAC and provide input and feedback in advance of our budget deadline. The BRAC recommendations were not close enough to our one-third target amount in year one. Since then, we have reduced our target amount with a plan to utilize the existing fund balance to offset cuts and minimize staff reductions.

    The modified budget reduction plan impacts approximately 150 district and campus-level administrators and professional support staff, 60 operations and 21 maintenance positions, and non-personnel reductions totaling more than $14 million at central and district departments. That still leaves us impacting 320 teachers, 66 paraprofessionals and support staff. We are NOT laying off people. We will use vacant positions that have not been eliminated to move staff into. We have prioritized filling open teacher and paraprofessional positions to help campuses meet their classroom needs first. Again, classrooms are prioritized to fill with displaced staff.

    The Board also requested modifications to the transportation plan for a hybrid solution that would include a hazardous route plan for elementary and middle school students, resulting in about $6.2 million in cost savings.

    We remain committed to providing a staff salary increase for 2024-2025, allowing CFISD to remain competitive with neighboring districts while minimizing the burden of inflation that our employees are experiencing. Additionally, many of our staff live paycheck to paycheck and rely on raises to counteract rising insurance costs.

    The trustees and I have been in frequent communication with our legislative delegation, advocating on behalf of the district regarding our budget challenges. The most urgent request of our legislators is their help with the Texas Education Agency Commissioner to utilize excess state funds to offset the district’s loss of revenue due to the LOHE for approximately $30 million. All our legislators have shared their willingness to advocate on our behalf. However, it’s just one-time money, and our legislative delegation has expressed support for more permanent funding for a low-admin-cost, tax-relief-granting district in the next session. That temporary funding will give us more time to seek additional savings and efficiencies to address our shortfall. We are blessed to have our legislative delegation help with this in the next session. That does not begin until January, which is halfway through next year’s budget.

    We are also exploring various revenue-generating ideas, including increases in advertising, naming rights and expanded outside facility use. While a Voter-Approved Tax Rate Election (VATRE) would generate the most revenue, it requires voter approval. Based on the statute, November 2024 is the earliest we could hold an election; therefore, it cannot impact our bottom line until the 2025-2026 budget year.

    Looking ahead

    Unfortunately, we know that our budget challenges will not go away after one year of reductions. Suppose we do not receive increased state funding and/or generate additional revenue. In that case, we will face an even more significant estimated deficit in 2025-2026, necessitating twice as many positional cuts. Therefore, some locally funded increases in revenue, such as a VATRE, could mitigate some of the program and positional cuts. This would be a much better option than eliminating the LOHE as it provides some weighted state funding while still providing homeowners tax relief.

    I wish I had more inspiring news to share with you, but we all must clearly understand our current situation and the path forward. Again, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Despite these difficulties, we are tasked with providing the best possible education for more than 118,000 students, and we remain as committed to that challenge as ever.

    In the best interest of children,

    Doug Killian, Ph.D.
    Superintendent of schools

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  • Instructional Calendar Changes and Budget Challenges

    Posted by Douglas Killian, Ph.D. on 2/27/2024 3:00:00 PM

    Dear CFISD Community:

    February is zooming by, so I wanted to thank all the students, staff, and community that I have had the honor and pleasure to meet. What a wonderful community we are blessed to be a part of.

    Instructional Calendar

    I appreciate the efforts of the Instructional Calendar Committee and value the feedback from parents and the community, to create a 2024-2025 instructional calendar. I realize that moving away from a later start date (with no District of Innovation, orDOI, status) and fewer instructional days than most districts around us was going to create some opportunities and some challenges for us. Additionally, I want to apologize for its rapid development and delayed approval. The DOI approval in January pushed the development of the calendar to February. Working under a tight timeline, the Instructional Calendar Committee worked to expedite a calendar to the Board. The Board then listened to the community and made some adjustments. The changes generated mixed reactions in the community, as creating a universally approved calendar can be difficult with competing interests and needs. We are committed to starting the calendar development process earlier next year, so we have more time to share and take input. Thank you for giving grace as we transition leadership amid the DOI process.

    Budget Planning

    As many of you are aware, CFISD has not received an increase in funding since 2019, and we have had to adopt deficit budgets over the past few years. Thankfully, we have been rescued from ending the year in deficit by utilizing the federal ESSER funds to pay for more items than we expected, in addition to some internal savings, and not filling all of the budgeted positions. The latter is both a blessing and a curse. We appreciate not spending the personnel funds to balance the budget, but it creates a hardship for staff and students when positions we need go unfilled.

    This school year, we will expend the last of the three years of ESSER funding and again use a combination of those federal relief funds and unfilled positions to potentially end this budget year balanced and hopefully in a surplus. Next year, we will not have the ESSER funds to help balance the budget. We recommend that any surplus at the end of this fiscal year be designated to help us address a budget shortfall for the 2024-2025 school year. After this action, only budget cuts and revenue-generating ideas will balance the budget. CFISD is a very efficiently staffed district with economies of scale and an additional Local Optional Homestead Exemption (LOHE), proudly providing additional savings to our taxpayers. It is unfortunate we find ourselves in this challenging budget situation.

    CFISD continues to be innovative with its programs and fiscally responsible with its expenditures. We have a great community and staff. So, we are asking for your input and help in identifying ways to generate revenue for the district and cut any waste you may believe exists so we can maintain the exceptional programs and people that make our district great. There are always unanticipated consequences to recommendations, and we will evaluate all of the ideas to see what can be implemented and with the least impact on the exceptionalness of the students, staff and district.

    Please remember we are experiencing trying staffing times as well. Just as the private sector has had to increase salaries to attract and maintain a scarce workforce, educational institutions face similar challenges. Implementing a 1% pay increase across the system costs more than $9 million. Not only are we competing for exceptional teachers, but our needs include nurses, counselors, plumbers, electricians, CDL drivers and so many more. If you or a friend would like to join our fantastic team, we would love for you to apply for a job. Help us in Bringing Out the Best in our community, students and district!

    In the best interest of children,

    Douglas Killian, Ph.D.
    Proud to serve as CFISD Superintendent.

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  • Preparing for Inclement Weather

    Posted by Doug Killian, Ph.D. on 1/12/2024 10:55:00 AM

    Dear CFISD Community,

    As many of you are aware, we have some extremely cold weather moving into the area this weekend. I take weather calls very seriously; there are three decisions I don’t enjoy in my role:

    • boundary changes;
    • weather calls; and
    • budget cuts.

    As such, I rely on a multitude of information and a lot of preparation. CFISD has detailed procedures in place for potential cancellations that will assist my decision-making process to ensure the safety of our students and staff. Here is a brief overview of what that entails.

    1. We have been watching models and receiving weather updates from local weather experts since last weekend. The latest model suggests the arctic blast may arrive Saturday night—so please have your personal prep done a little sooner, just in case.

    2. As a reminder, Monday, Jan.15 is a CFISD holiday. Leadership has reviewed all possibilities for Tuesday, Jan.16, when we are set to return. We have a plan to check the roads personally. I can tell you that if the weather is not certain, several team members and I will be up late at night and early in the morning to assess that road conditions are safe for staff to arrive as well as to transport students. While weather stations report general area conditions, there is nothing like having eyes on the ground to see what is really going on in our community. I plan to drive the roads, as I have been doing since I was in little Poteet ISD (approximately 1,600 students). I am happy to say that police, transportation, and operations staff personally checking the roads is a practice here, too, because we love our staff and kids.

    3. Some think we should close schools “just in case,” or say that we don’t make the call early enough, or they need us to open for a variety of reasons. Many of our families rely on us for more than just education; it’s also childcare so they may go to work, or perhaps the warmth and food our schools provide. So, closing “just in case” can hurt people, too, when it’s not founded.

    4. We also know staffing a campus properly is critical to a successful school day. Some of our folks travel from surrounding districts, so a neighboring district closing can impact our staffing ability when they do not have childcare.

    Finally, CFISD utilizes SchoolMessenger as the district’s mass notification system for campus and district emergencies (such as school closures related to weather). Emergency communication may be by email, phone call or text message.  It is critical that you update your contact information at your child(ren)’s campus when you have changes.  Additionally, to opt in to receive text messages from CFISD, please text to 67587 from your cell phone. Parents are also encouraged to monitor the district website (www.cfisd.net), social media, and television or radio stations.

    Please know that I will be in constant communication with local meteorologists and other school district superintendents.  I care deeply about each and every one of you and will be watching and stressing over making the right decision.

    In the best interest of children,

    Doug Killian, Ph.D.
    Superintendent of Schools

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