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7 Ways Districts Can Make the Most of Every Dollar

Photo of a calculator, pen, and printed out budgets

One of the most important accomplishments for school boards every summer is to finalize and approve their district’s budget for the upcoming school year, with the goal of minimizing potential financial surprises. 

“Districts appreciate certainty around their budgets,” said Mark Wey, TASB division director of Business Services. “But this year, it’s been more of a challenge just because of inflationary and labor market pressures related to the global pandemic. It’s definitely a tougher environment for educational organizations across the state.”

With personnel accounting for up to 85% or more of a school district’s budget, Wey notes that there’s not a lot of room to find cost savings or reductions. As a result, some Texas school boards have had to pass deficit budgets, while others have dipped into fund balances to afford raises or help manage rising construction prices in their bond programs.

Inflation is a challenge for Corpus Christi ISD as it builds and renovates schools as part of a $136 million bond program. “All of our bids came in millions of dollars over budget,” said Karen Griffith, deputy superintendent of Business Support Services. To help make up that shortfall, the district moved $14.5 million from its general fund into its construction program.

But Corpus Christi ISD has also had to deal with price hikes on everyday items such as paper and textbooks. In June, the district’s board of trustees unanimously approved a budget with a $25.4 million deficit, citing falling enrollment numbers.

At Gregory-Portland ISD, just north of Corpus Christi, assistant superintendent for Business & Finance Ismael Gonzalez III is also scrutinizing every expense.

“Our focus has been planning and really bringing our campus or program leaders to the table to think about needs versus wants and to prioritize,” he said. “We’ve had to focus on how we can be as efficient and effective with our district and campus operations while still providing an exceptional academic education for all our students and at the same time having a high-performing and engaged workforce.”

Amid all the challenges, Wey said TASB has been trying to increase awareness of some member services that can help districts, “advance their goal of being good stewards of tax-payer dollars.”

Here are seven budget-friendly activities and services that districts may find helpful, offered through TASB or its affiliated entities:

Lock in Fuel and Energy Prices

Open to all public entities, the TASB Energy Cooperative can help school districts and local governments compliantly procure electricity and fuel at competitive rates made possible through volume purchasing. Participants can consider longer-term contracts or spot purchases, depending on their needs.

Conduct a Staffing Review and Compensation Analysis

With recruitment and retention of teachers and staff a priority, it’s more important than ever to look at compensation and salary data to ensure school districts are staying competitive in their salaries, as well as identifying optimal staffing levels.

TASB HR Services offers specialized consulting services to help member districts understand how they stack up compared to peer and neighboring districts, in addition to state data.

Related: About TASB HR Services

Improve Procurement Management To Increase Buying Power

BuyBoard®, also known as the Local Government Purchasing Cooperative, offers a way to help public entities manage their procurement process for efficiency and compliance. All vendors that are part of BuyBoard undergo a competitive bid process that includes evaluation of criteria such as price, past performance, reputation, and any other applicable factors.

As an added benefit, school districts and governments that purchase through BuyBoard are eligible for direct rebates based on purchasing volume. In 2022, BuyBoard returned $9.8 million in rebates to purchasers.

Evaluate Health Care Spending

Districts can now look outside of TRS-ActiveCare for health insurance options. But they should evaluate claims and contribution data to identify potential cost savings before making any changes.

TASB Benefits Cooperative can work with districts to review health care spending data to determine if an alternative health plan makes financial sense.

Related: What Districts Need to Know about Leaving (or Joining) TRS-ActiveCare

Maximize ESSER Funds

With billions in federal funds available to help address impacts from the pandemic, school districts should consider the different ways this money may be used to benefit their students.

TASB Facility Services is available to help districts consider eligibility for these funds for various projects, including upgrades to HVAC systems and ventilation, indoor air quality programs, integrated pest management, and pre-construction hazardous material sampling.

Related: 5 Ways Your School Facilities Impact Student Achievement

Put Fund Balances To Work

School districts want to ensure they consider compliant strategies to protect and grow their fund balances. Lone Star Investment Pool, a wholly owned subsidiary of TASB, offers fund options designed to meet the needs of public entities that want to preserve the safety of their principal, daily liquidity, and the highest possible rate of return.

Stabilize Risk Management Costs and Coverage

From catastrophic weather events to cybersecurity nightmares, school districts are facing complex challenges that can strain district resources.

The TASB Risk Management Fund offers comprehensive coverage programs designed specifically for the risks faced by school districts across Texas. When school districts join the Fund, they agree to work together through an interlocal participation agreement to protect against existing and emerging risks unique to the education sector.

The goal is to control risk, save resources, and enhance value. Fund members also benefit from training and resources that empower their employees to prevent workplace injuries, property damage, and other losses.   

Related: Fund 101: Strength Through Collaboration

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Sylvia Wood
Communications Division Director

Sylvia Wood is the division director of communications for TASB.

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