Alpine ISD Board of Trustees held its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 18, and gave bonuses to all district teachers and staff, citing coronavirus concerns. This despite CFO Tucker Durham’s worries over the district’s $600,000 budget deficit.
After much discussion, in a 7-0 vote, trustees authorized a one-time payment of $1,000 to full-time staff, and $500 to part-time staff, for a total of $174,000.
Durham expressed concerns with the current fiscal year, pointing out the school district had expenses every year while revenues decreased, and over the school district’s financial sustainability in the next two to five years.
Member, Dist. 7, and board Vice President Mary McCallister said although the district had a significant deficit, it should still give out the bonuses, saying, “Morale outweighs everything else.”
Durham agreed, but stated, “I am worried that if we spend this money right now, and if our average daily enrollment continues to be small, we are going to have to do something with the personnel for the fact that they are roughly 80% of our whole budget. If we go into millions of dollars deficit due to the average daily enrollment, and keeping our expenses high, and having lower revenues, there are a lot of problems and issues.”
Despite Durham’s candor, board members justified the one-time pay increase based on a recent spike in coronavirus cases. Board President Eddie Natera said spending the money was worth the risks, saying, “Life is full of risks.”
Rachel Carvajal, Dist. 4, agreed, saying teachers were “putting their own lives at risk to teach.” Adrian Billings, Dist. 6, said that he would abstain because his spouse was employed by the school district, but Superintendent Becky McCutchen said Billings and Joe Portillo, Dist. 2, who also has a spouse employed by the district, were legally allowed to vote.
Trustees then approved the increase. Durham proposed a budget amendment for that amount to come out of the general fund balance, and trustees voted in favor, 7-0.
In other business, Les Burke, senior architect with Parkhill, Smith, & Cooper, provided a high school construction update, saying R.L. Abatement of Weslaco submitted a bid proposal for asbestos removal at an initial cost of $5,000, and board members approved. The bid proposal did not include hiring an asbestos consultant who will need to conduct air monitoring and other tasks. The consultant is currently bidding the remainder of the asbestos work, with a Dec. 3 due date.
Burke also said there were delays with a construction permit from City of Alpine Building Official David Hale, but he hoped to obtain the permit within the next two weeks, and no later than the end of the year.
Finally, McCutchen provided an enrollment update. As of Nov. 13 when the district switched back to remote learning, district-wide student enrollment, decreased from 975 students to 957, with the majority of losses at the elementary school.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting is set for Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 5:30 p.m. at a location to be decided later.