Arlington school district eliminating employee cellphone allowances

ARLINGTON -- School district employees with district-paid cellphones will have to start making business calls on their own dime.

The school board voted 7-0 Thursday to do away with cellphone allowances, one of several recommendations by a cost-cutting committee appointed to help the district deal with a $12 million budget deficit.

The board took the committee's idea a step further, following Vice President Gloria Peña's suggestion to cease all phone allowances Sept. 1 rather than phase them out over three years.

"I don't understand the thirds," Peña said. "If we're looking at a way to cut the costs, then just cut the costs. Do it all at once."

The district pays cellphone allowances to 145 employees at an annual cost of $121,000.

Committee members in the audience didn't take issue with Peña's motion.

Trustee Wayne Ogle was poised to vote against the action, but he changed his mind when the board allowed Superintendent Jerry McCullough to draft a policy of special exceptions for the board to consider later.

Ogle said eliminating all phone allowances raises questions of fairness, such as whether those employees should be expected to be as accessible to the district after hours.

"If there are employees who don't need the phones, let's go in and strategically remove them, not just kill a whole program," Ogle said.

The board also agreed with the Citizens Advisory Committee that the district should seek savings in its $1.2 million annual contract with the Arlington Police Department to provide school resource officers. But trustees rejected the committee's recommendation to consider outsourcing the duties to another agency.

The committee itself had narrowly approved the outsourcing recommendation. The committee also evaluated the possibility of establishing an in-house police department but said it wasn't clear whether that would be cost-effective.

Other recommendations the board approved included:

Considering hiring an educational management consultant to help streamline the district's finances, administrative structure and other functions.

Further restricting schools that want to carry over excess funds from year to year. Trustees emphasized that the measure would be purely for bookkeeping and planning and would not take any money away from schools.

Asking the UIL District Committee to consider a $1 increase in ticket prices for varsity football games.