BY KIM HILSENBECK
This week the Hays Free Press sat down with Hays CISD Superintendent Jeremy Lyon for a conversation about this year’s budget process, how the district’s fast growth affects the budget and what to expect in the future.
Q. How did you think the budget process went this year?
First and foremost, school districts operate under a two-year mindset in regards to operating budgets. Our funding is defined on a two-year basis by the legislature. So this past year we were in year two of the biennium. That meant that our budget was very well defined and there were no surprises. Because in year one, we have done all the hard work of necessary budget cuts and positioning ourselves to go into the second year of the biennium with no surprises and we accomplished that and we ended up exactly where we wanted to be.
Q. How did the administration and Board of Trustees work together to accomplish this year’s budget? Did it go well?
It went exceedingly well. We publish an annual budget calendar that we follow very, very closely. And in that calendar you have multiple opportunities for the board of trustees to interact with administration with any concerns and ideas and proposals. And we were very successful in that. We had a lot of workshops and we took a lot of feedback from board members and addressed them and incorporated them into the budget.
Q. What were the board concerns and issues?
Well, you know, we all have concerns over school funding and we all have the same desire and that is to drive as much of our budget into classrooms as we possibly can. So it’s always this balancing act of keeping an eye on maintaining financial stability while driving money into the classrooms and spending money to the absolute best advantage for student outcomes. So the kinds of questions the board asked were right on the mark in terms of, are we concerned about employee raises in the context of can we afford them down the road? Are we doing enough for employees to retain our best teachers? Are we staffing our schools appropriately to handle the increase in number of students? Those are typically the year in and year out questions that are all right on the mark in terms of how we’re handling being a fast-growth school district.
Q. How does all the growth in our area impact Hays CISD?
Over the last five years, we are the sixth fastest growing school district in Texas. As a fast growth school district, we face unique challenges in a number of areas:
1. Integrating 500-1000 new children into our schools per year. They arrive at all ages, in all grades, with all kinds of needs. Our challenge is to successfully identify what their educational needs are and to get them into the right programs. The next challenge is to ensure that they are prepared for meeting the demands of our curriculum and the state accountability system.
2. Facilities. As a fast growth district we add the equivalent of a school’s worth of children every year. Soon, we will need more schools. We have tentatively identified the need for two more elementary schools, one middle school, and eventually, a third comprehensive high school. To build these schools will require taxpayer support. We have not increased the tax rate in Hays during my entire time here (and for the last six years) and we are proud of that. To continue this practice will be a challenge given our fast growth.
Q. If you could have one wish for Hays CISD, what would it be?
For every single parent to be fully involved in the education of their child. This involvement is centered on providing a healthy home life that focuses on being active, providing good nutrition and supporting reading and learning at home. In everything we do as educators, we need to have the strongest partnership with parents, a partnership that is completely focused on providing the best for our children.