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North East ISD Approves Conservative Budget Amid COVID-19 Induced Economic Uncertainty

Emblem of North East ISD
File Photo | Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

Updated at 6:51 p.m. with funding guidance from TEA — With a legal requirement to pass a budget by the end of June, San Antonio area school districts have begun approving budgets for the 2020-2021 school year without knowing answers to key questions with major financial implications.

Trustees for the North East Independent School District approved a $564 million budget Monday evening that freezes salaries and cuts 37 full-time and one part-time teaching position through natural attrition.

District administrators said they will consider adding a one-time retention bonus of up to 2% in September once they have a better understanding of their funding for the year. The budget includes funding to offset the rising cost of health care and avoid increasing premiums.

North East plans to reduce the number of teachers because it projects enrolling 600 fewer students than the district budgeted for last year. The finance department said the district would absorb the reduction in teaching positions through retirements and teachers leaving of their own accord.

North East enrolled around 64,500 students in the 2019-2020 school year and is expecting to enroll 300 fewer students in 2020-2021.

“It’s been a fun budget to put together with all of the unknowns,” said Dan Villarreal, North East’s chief financial officer on Monday before trustees approved it.

Districts across the state are worried they could see funding hits if parents decide not to register their children for school out of concern for the coronavirus. State funding is usually based on classroom attendance.

“They’re unsure next year whether they want their child to go back,” North East Superintendent Sean Maika said during a budget workshop on June 1. “I probably receive several emails a day asking if we’re going to provide a distance learning option in the fall.”

Guidance released Tuesday by the Texas Education Agency allows districts to receive funding for online learning, alleviating concerns that districts would lose state money for complying with parents' requests for remote learning options.

San Antonio ISD’s board also approved its 2020-2021 budget Monday evening. The budget allots $498 million in its general fund and is based on a projection that enrollment will stay about the same as the 2019-2020 school year, with around 48,500 students.

Camille Phillips can  be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

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