Why did we approve the expenditure of so much money on two big ticket items when the school is facing financial struggles?

Posted by Kelly Lusk on 1/3/2018

Similar to the blog of December 20, members of the Board of Trustees asked that I write an open letter to the Faculty, Staff and Parents of Tom Bean ISD in regard to the approval of the purchase of two high ticket items at the December board meeting. The two items were a suburban and a plasma cutter.

The suburban will replace the truck that was totaled in an accident this summer. The truck had been used in the transportation department only but the suburban will be designated for student transportation. Currently, we have three vehicles in the transportation fleet to use when carrying small numbers of students or employees to their destinations, two of which are tied up on a daily basis on regular transportation routes. Thus, the need for another vehicle is pressing at this time.

The plasma cutter is to be used in the ag mechanics and ag fabrication classes to give hands on experience to students in the use of high tech equipment. The Sherman area has many machine-type manufacturing jobs and our students will have a better chance to compete for these with the appropriate experience.

So while the need for these items is clear, we must acknowledge that it is no secret that Tom Bean, along with many of our public schools, is facing severe budget issues. This is due in large part to the effort of many in our legislature to defund public education by shifting your local property tax dollars, which are designated for the support of public schools for all students, to

private corporations (charters) and private schools (vouchers). While doing this the state has reduced its percentage of funding schools to 47th in the country, creating a burden on the local property tax owner and forcing property tax rates to skyrocket.

One might ask how we are able to purchase these items in this political climate?

The Board felt, and I agree, that a short explanation to this question and how the purchases of these items relate to the overall budget would be in order, since many are not able to attend our school board meetings.

The answer comes in the design of school funding. Much of the money we receive from the State and Federal government is designated to be used in certain areas, Special Education dollars or the School Lunch Program being the best examples of designating federal money. Another category of funding, this from the state, is known as Career and Technology or CATE.

Traditionally CATE money is spent on vocational courses only, but in recent years the allowable courses have been broadened. Vo-tech and CATE courses can be very expensive so funding is tied to student participation. The amount of CATE money received is based on multiple factors including enrollment and student contact hours (FTEs) in CATE courses. As more students enroll in CATE courses, the funding level increases. We were very conservative when establishing a CATE expenditure budget at our budget workshops last May/June. We discussed these purchases but felt it was best to wait until we got deeper into the school year before we committed to them. We established our CATE expenditure budget at $257,000. As we are getting deeper into the school year we are projecting that our CATE FTEs have increased from 50.21 in the 2016-17 school year to 58.55 this year. Therefore, while we may not receive an overall increase in funding, we should have an increase in CATE money. We have estimated that the school district will receive $321,000 in CATE money. Thus, we have around $64,000 in our CATE funds that have not been designated. This must be spent on CATE courses at the high school level. It may not be spent at the elementary level.

We felt these purchases would be the best expenditure of these funds to serve our students. Once again, we are very conservative with your tax dollars and we needed to wait and watch several factors before this was approved.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.