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LA-JOYA-LOGOLA JOYA — Superintendent Dr. Alda T. Benavides put many La Joya pre-kindergarten teachers at ease when she said the district has no plans to cut their program.

“The state is talking about cutting pre-k. La Joya ISD is not,” Benavides said to the full boardroom. “There will be no discussion to cut pre-k.”

During the 2009-10 school year, LJISD eliminated radio station positions, cut consultant and travel monies, monitored teacher pull-out days, restructured field trip guidelines, consolidated job duties, shortening bus trips, among other cuts. Those cuts, Benavides said, were in preparation for state and federal shortfalls that could have had drastic effects on LJISD.

“I want to caution everyone that is in a panic because you hear what other districts are doing. Until you hear it from us, you are not to be concerned,” Benavides told teachers. “We must all concentrate on doing our jobs, doing them well, and rest assured, if any major changes were to occur, you would hear it from us.”

Last year the district saved $12 million being strict with its money and not approving all requests. The state is asking for the district to save $18 million.

Of those cuts, Benavides said the board would not cut staff until absolutely necessary.

“We will not look at cutting staff, especially staff that is delivering instruction to children unless we have to,” she explained.

J.J. Luna, a member for the La Joya American Federation of Teachers, said a number of teachers were worried about what was going to happen to the pre-k program with several state and federal cuts.

“What you started off with at the beginning of the meeting, that’s going to allow them to sleep a lot better,” Luna said.

Current proposed cuts include a 15 percent cut to department budgets. Department budgets discussed at the meeting were human resources, curriculum and instruction and administration and finance.  The cuts include reducing stipends, additional athletic staff days, no raises for administrative staff, reducing staff working days, and cutting any new spending. The total summary of savings for the proposed reductions would be more than $11.8 million.

The board discussed the student to teacher ratio, as well. The state is discussing raising the student to teacher ratio to 24-to-1, a move several LJISD trustees disapproved of. If the school district did change the student to teacher ratio it would save the district $4.5 million. This move would cut 91 teachers from kindergarten through fourth-grade.

Another area discussed was substitute pay. The school district spent $592,266 on substitutes when teachers were out for training, but spent just over $2 million on substitutes for other absences.

The board discussed using paraprofessionals to teach a class instead of using a substitute and giving penalties for unwarranted excessive absences to teachers. Ochoa also recommended creating an incentive for teachers that showed up to work more often and had fewer absences.

There was also a concern about the state penalizing school districts that have a large fund balance. LJISD’s fund balance currently sits at over $93 million. According to state regulations, the district must keep three times their monthly expenses in the balance, which is $54 million.

None of the board members, or Benavides, want to touch the fund balance, but Benavides said if they get penalized, she would not want to take out more than $5 million.

Last week’s budget session was one of at least three sessions that will be held. The next budget session will be held March 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the central administration boardroom. Areas to be discussed will include employee benefits, afterschool busing and additional proposed reductions.

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