Keller trustees approve budget with raises for employees

KELLER -- School trustees voted 6-1 Thursday night for a budget that includes a $12 million deficit that includes raises for all employees and no tax increase.

The $214.76 million spending plan is $5.2 million more than the 2011-12 budget, almost all of the increase going for the raises.

The tax rate remains at $1.54 per $100 of assessed value with the maximum $1.04 for daily operations and 50 cents for bond debt.

Teachers received a routine step increase two years ago and a state-mandated raise three years ago. Most administrators and hourly employees have not had any increase since 2009.

Trustee Brad Schofield voted against the budget because he wanted free bus service reinstated. The Keller school district went to a pay-to-ride system last year to save money.

"We felt our teachers and staff deserved a raise," said board President Kevin Stevenson. "They had not received one in three years, and we were losing some good people to districts that were giving raises."

This year's budget planning was much more low-key than a year ago. Texas legislators cut about $4 billion from education funding over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years. Keller received about $25 million less in state revenue over the two years, with a bigger hit taken from this year's budget. Last year, district officials cut about 200 jobs, free bus service and some academic and extra-curricular programs. In June 2011, Keller district voters rejected a proposed tax increase that would have generated about $16 million in revenue to prevent some of the cuts.

This year, trustees dug into fund balance to give raises and restore some academic programs, as well as athletic and fine arts spending to improve student involvement.

Stevenson said: "Basically, we've seen this coming for a lot of years, and that's why we built up the fund balance."

The district has about $66 million in fund balance, or savings. Officials want to keep about 20 percent of the operating budget, or $42 million, in the account.

Officials believe that lawsuits filed by districts across the state, including Keller, will force the Legislature to change the funding system in the next few years. The suit goes to trial in October.

Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231

Twitter: @SandraEngelland