ARLINGTON — School trustees approved a $508.4 million budget for the next school year Thursday night and the sale of $176.3 million in bonds for projects across the district.The budget includes 2 percent pay raises for all district employees at a cost of $6.7 million annually. Trustees also approved a new employee wellness program that they hope will reduce health insurance premiums by $20 a month. The entire wellness program is valued at $1.3 million annually. “We don’t want people to have to run 10 miles or anything — this is a pretty loose plan,” Trustee Peter Baron said.The school board voted 6-0 on the measures after reviewing recommendations from campus administrators, teachers and the district’s Financial Futures Committee, Chief Financial Officer Cindy Powell said. Trustee John Hibbs was absent but sent a letter thanking his colleagues for their hard work. “It’s a fiscally sound budget that we put a lot of time working on,” school board President Bowie Hogg said. “It’s also a conservative budget to prepare for a potentially difficult legislative session.”Under state law, the district was required to hold a public forum on the budget and a proposed tax rate increase for 2014-15 before taking action Thursday night. Arlington resident Debbie Hanlan was the only person to speak. She asked trustees to add an assistant athletic director to the budget. The board took no action on the request.The budget includes 23 new positions at a cost of $1.7 million.After trustees receive certified property values from the Tarrant Appraisal District at the end of July, they are expected to approve a 6.6-cent tax rate increase for the next school year. The tax hike would go toward debt service on the first installment of the $663 million bond package approved by voters in May. The tax rate hike will not only pay for debt service but also make up for a reduction in state funding that occurs when property values increase, Powell said. That’s why the final tax rate won’t be known until TAD certifies property values. If the trustees wish to raise the rate beyond 6.6 cents in August, they must hold another public forum, she said. “It’s a very strong budget that continues the path of ensuring students have the opportunity to be successful, and it ensures the opportunity to retain and recruit employees,” Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said. “It also positions the school district for the future with uncertainly of funding by the state.”Salaries, programs, jobsThe $508.4 million budget includes $21.8 million for a new elementary school to be built east of Texas 360 during the upcoming school year.Powell said the district is using $21 million in surplus funds to build the elementary.The district will also give $750 stipends to 29 professionals at non-Title I campuses to coordinate family engagement as part of a pilot program. The goal is to provide consistency on curriculum-based activities that don’t fall into PTA functions, school officials said. As part of the budget, the district will implement a pilot program to provide free lunches to uniformed police officers at district campuses. The intent is to create positive interactions between officers and students, officials said. Bond program rolloutTrustees voted 6-0 to approve the sale of $176.3 million in bonds to hire architects and start the first and second phases of the bond program.Some projects will be short, but others, like a $46 million districtwide Career and Technical Center and two new elementaries, will take longer. The first phases will include:• Multipurpose activity centers at each high school.• Lamar High School baseball field renovations.• A districtwide Career and Technical Center.• Two new elementary schools.• A Workman Junior High School classroom addition.• Renovations for two dual-language/fine-arts academies.• Special-education alternate curriculum program classrooms at schools that have yet to be identified.• Condition improvements at 43 campuses.• Thirty-six buses and 40 white fleet vehicles — 30 of which are replacements and 10 of which are new. • Fine-arts instruments and uniforms.• Updates such as wireless enhancements, security upgrades, GPS tracking and changes to classroom technology.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST