Monday night, at its regular School Board meeting, the trustees of Socorro ISD honored the Financial Services Department, which was awarded the TASBO Award of Excellence in Financial Management. I’m grateful for the hard work of the people to earn this award and congratulate them for it. The Purchasing Department was honored for receiving a similar award and the Public Relations Department received the top award from its state professional association. Congratulations to all.

There is tremendous competence and high achievement among the employees of SISD, and it is beyond belief that when these hard-working employees bring recommendations to the Board on behalf of the District administration those recommendations are ignored. In recent years, trustees have ignored staff recommendations on salaries and benefits, voting to provide higher salaries and more expensive benefits than what was recommended by the District administration, but highly favored and sought after by teacher unions.

When looking at the budget chasm of $33 million, it’s the fault of the Board of Trustees, which has mismanaged the District’s finances.

Information provided to me in a recent Public Information Request shows that between 2019 and 2023 the student population grew by a meager 2.04% while salaries exploded by 35.91%. Unless the plan is to impose financial hardship upon taxpayers, that level of salary growth is not sustainable and must be reversed.

Beyond paying higher salaries and providing more costly benefits than recommended, the District is now decreasing in enrollment, which is huge because the state provides funding to the District built around average daily attendance and the basic allotment.

According to Section 48.0051 of the Texas Education Code, districts are entitled to for each student in average daily attendance the lesser of $6,160 or the result of $6,160 times the tier one maintenance and operations tax rate (TR) divided by the districts’ maximum compressed tax rate (MCR) (A= $6,160 X TR/MCR). Districts want the state money and will work hard to qualify for the $6,160 per student in average daily attendance.

If you don’t think average daily attendance and the basic allotment are a big deal, take a moment to review the January 23special School Board meeting for Socorro ISD when Trustee Marivel Macias discusses the 0.6 of a child at the 1:02 mark. She was commenting on how for each home within the District only 0.6 of the children attend Socorro ISD schools. She was followed by Trustee Alice Gardea, who talked about the need to reach out to parents who choose not to enroll their child in Socorro ISD. She was followed by Board Secretary Paul Guerra, who when he asked Superintendent Dr. Carman how much enrollment dropped this year was told roughly 600 and then responded with the need to approach this using grass-roots efforts because 600 students “is money for us.” Using the state formula, those 600 students account for $3,696,000 in revenue.

If you think losing 600 students and nearly $4 million is a big deal, tighten your seatbelt because the ride is about to get bumpy, because in reality, the District has lost much more than 600 students. During the March 5 special School Board meeting the Chief Communications Officer and leader of the Public Relations Department, beginning at the 51:45 mark, tried to put a PR face to the issue by choosing to highlight that Socorro ISD had more students transfer into the District than Ysleta ISD and El Paso ISD, with a net change of 315 in the 2020-2021, 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, even though during those years SISD averaged 1,277 students transferring in while EPISD averaged 2,375 and YISD averaged 5,423. He also highlighted that during the same school years SISD had fewer student transfers out of the District, with a net change of 639, even though during these years SISD averaged 8,213 students transferring out. EPISD averaged 5,751 students transferring out, and YISD averaged 3,538 students transferring out.

To summarize, even though a public relations approach was used to highlight that Socorro ISD is beating the other districts, the reality is SISD is losing badly to other districts with a net loss of 7,187 students, which equate to more than $44 million in state funding.

Beyond the current numbers, projections for the future are grim. During the same March 5 special Board meeting, beginning at the 17:30 mark, Justin Rich and his company Woolpert were contracted to provide an enrollment study, and they project that enrollment will decrease by an additional 3,000 students by the 2033-2034 school year, with decreases in enrollment projected for each school year until then.

Decreases in enrollment are much different than the increases that were common when I was employed by Socorro ISD and will require a different strategy to successfully navigate, and one that had better involve the entire community. With these types of declines on the table and projected well into the future, the School Board needs to become data driven, and stop being driven by the teacher unions.

As far as the teacher unions, I suggest they educate their members on Board policies DFF, DFFA, and DFFB, which all deal with reduction in force, because what is happening now within Socorro ISD is not sustainable. Unless it is reversed, your members will lose jobs. By the way, the first sentence of Policy DFF reads, “A board is charged with the responsibility of governance of a district; governance includes the making of responsible choices in managing the finances and personnel of the district.”  

Tom Laign was employed by Socorro ISD for 27 years before retiring in December 2017, last serving as the Transition Services Coordinator for the Special Education Department. In January 2008 he was named Special Educator of the Year by the Texas Council of the Administrators of Special Education.