Arlington school district to save $1.4 million through accounting shift, energy efficiency

ARLINGTON -- About $1.4 million in last-minute cost savings in the Arlington school district's newly adopted $443.3 million general fund budget will come mostly from an accounting shift and increased energy efficiency.

The main cost cutters, approved by the board late Thursday, were proposals to use bond money instead of revenue budget funds to buy service vehicles and to hire a manager to reduce energy consumption. Those recommendations are expected to generate savings of $413,000 and $500,000, respectively.

The savings options were among about $4 million in budget cuts and revenue-generating ideas proposed by a citizens budget committee, in addition to earlier budget-tightening measures that were already included.

The initial proposed budget of $440.1 million included only enough funds for pay raises to provide a state-mandated step increase to educators, defined by the state as teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors and speech pathologists.

The additional $4.8 million approved by the board will give all employees a 1 percent pay raise and will continue the 2 percent raise that was given as a one-time boost last year for noneducators. Educators will get a 2 percent raise, including their 1 percent step increase.

Those added costs will increase the projected budget deficit to $13.4 million, which would be covered by budget reserve funds.

'Do-it-yourself kit'

Along with the new budget, trustees voted to increase the property tax rate, to pay for bond projects, by 6.3 cents to $1.335 per $100 of assessed property value.

"I think overall the action was positive," said David Tapia, principal of Hutcheson Junior High School and president of the Arlington Administrators Association. "Watching the school board meeting, I felt there was a true response to our concerns."

Tapia was among about a dozen people who spoke to the board Thursday. Most lobbied for pay increases and against many of the cuts.

But two residents urged the board to deny pay increases and make drastic cuts to start balancing the budget.

"You don't have a good business plan," said Dennis Killy, who said the staff proposal left the board with too many options to consider. "It was no budget. It was a do-it-yourself kit."

Also eliminated were a mentoring program, some Boys Town training materials, the district's legislative lobbying contract and a wood chipper. The board also approved a proposal to work on improving attendance, which officials estimated would generate $650,000 in additional state funding.

The board chose not to reduce the numbers of teacher assistants and cafeteria monitors at elementary schools, trim educational stipends by 25 percent or decrease the district's contribution to employee health insurance plans.

Lawsuit settlement

The board also approved an agreement in principle in its lawsuit against Carrizo Oil and Gas. The district claims that the company owes it $3 million in gas lease bonus money.

"We're still working on final details," school district attorney Heather Castillo said Friday. Castillo said she could not discuss the amount of the settlement.

The dispute dates to the spring of 2008, when Carrizo bid $18,000 per acre for drilling rights on 165 acres of school property. The district rejected the bid on advice of its consultants, hoping that it could get a higher price. But when the market for mineral rights dropped, the district decided to accept Carrizo's bid.

Carrizo contended that its bid was no longer valid.