Mercedes ISD may cut 30 jobs to offset funding decline

Mercedes ISD may cut about 30 positions from the school district to address declining general revenue and a decreasing fund balance, interim superintendent Maria Filomena Leo said Wednesday.

Leo also made the announcement at a school board meeting Tuesday evening, when she explained that Mercedes ISD’s fund balance has decreased from nearly $5 million to about $500,000 over the past 10 years. She referred to the fund balance as a “cushion” for school districts in case of emergency and as a way to measure the health of an institution.

Major expenditures in contracting with a company to provide energy services for the district and building a new stadium cut into the fund balance, the interim superintendent said.

“The state recommends that a district carry a fund balance to be able to operate all schools’ (functions) for 90 days. Ours currently would take us through we’re estimating less than a week,” Leo said, adding that staff costs are increasing while revenue decreases due to declining enrollment.

Salaries and health benefits make up a large portion of the budget, and Leo said she believes the district has “one of the highest contributions toward the employees’ health insurance premium.”

Half of the positions cut may be teachers, she said, but did not identify other staff reductions.

Leo stressed that while departments such as transportation, athletics and extracurriculars are being considered for “more efficient ways” of operation, this doesn’t mean those departments’ staffs will be reduced.

“Everyone assumes that if we say we need to hold expenses, that means do away with people… that is one of several measures,” she added.

About 300 students left the district over the last two years, according to Leo. The Mercedes school district also accommodates students with disabilities in a co-op with La Feria and Santa Maria school districts. Last year, La Feria school district left the co-op and took about another 200 students with it, according to Leo.

The declining fund balance also affects the district’s ability to respond to emergency situations, such as the heavy flooding the Mid-Valley experienced in 2018. “It is worrisome to know that we don’t have the reserve that we would hope to have,” she added.

Leo said the district can pay salaries among other necessary functions through the end of the year.

“We’re very optimistic,” Leo said of the district’s prognosis for stymieing its decreasing fund balance. “All will be well; it’s simply not as healthy as we would like it to be.”

Attempts to gain comment from Board President Oscar Riojas were unsuccessful as of press time Thursday.