This is a good time to be going to work for the Pine Tree Independent School District (PTISD.) Staff there will soon be receiving a substantial salary increase. Unlike many school districts statewide, Pine Tree employees have not been victimized by the current economic downturn and have been able not only to keep their jobs, but receive raises. During a recent special board meeting the PTISD Board of Trustees approved a balanced budget for the 2011-2012 school year while simultaneously maintaining salary increases across the board. Board President Melinda Burns expressed her delight after the vote.
“I believe the community will be happy to know that not only are we adopting a balanced budget, but that it includes step raises for our teachers, counselors and librarians and a 3% increase for our other employees,” she said. “There are many school districts going through difficult financial times in Texas, and I feel blessed here in Pine Tree that we are able to support the people who make a huge difference in the lives of our kids.”
PTISD’s new Superintendent Dr. T.J. Farler agreed, adding that the district’s leadership continues to look ahead in the budgetary process.
“Since the legislature meets every other year we are always looking at a two-year picture for the budget. Pine Tree has done such a tremendous job in preparing for the future, being very intentional, and we want to continue that course,” she said. “The leadership team has been looking at all our options, and although we are approving a budget for our school year, we are already thinking about next year and considering options so that we will be prepared. It is a very rewarding position to be able to give our staff members that 3% increase and step raises. It gives us the competitive edge and puts us in a great position.”
In the face of majors cuts in the state’s education funding, PTISD’s board and staff worked to minimize the decreases’ impact. The annual operating budget reflects $31, 726, 316 in expenditures and revenues in the same amount. Expenditures were reined in for most departments in the 2011-2012 budget. District Chief Financial Officer Judy Downing outlined this fiscal situation.
“We had a decrease in revenue of $1,767,307, or 5.6% from the prior year, but we were still able to develop a balanced budget,” she said. “She added that any staff reductions occurring this year were attributable to attrition, not layoffs.
“We looked for cuts in program areas other than instructional,” she added. “Principals and department directors were careful to only spend money where it is absolutely needed. We were also able to take advantage of the energy efficiency of the new buildings built from the 2004 bond election, which lowered our electricity costs. We’ve had to tighten our belts and will have to make some hard decisions. We have made conservative projections, and will most likely have to adopt a deficit budget next year.”
The board also approved a Maintenance & Operations rate of $1.17 and a School Debt Service Rate of $.3410 for a Combined Tax Rate of $1.5110. Classes started Tuesday, August 23, but the beginning of school does not mark the end of the budgetary process. Assistant Superintendent for Student Services James Skeeler pointed out the remaining chores.
“We are looking at an increase in enrollment numbers,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the class sizes very closely to insure that student and teacher needs are met.”
On Thursday, August 25 PTISD’s enrollment was 4713. First day enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year were much lower at 4571. Pine Tree principals, several other central office personnel and the new superintendent rode buses with some of the youngest Pirates that week to help them stay awake and not miss their stops.
“The first week of school went very smoothly,” said Skeeler. “The only change we’d like to see is the addition of more bus drivers. Applications for bus drivers are available online and at our central office.”