Budget Battles

It seems that if Howard College officials didn’t receive bad news on the financial front, they wouldn’t receive any news at all.Trustees will hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate and hear an update on efforts to craft a new budget when they meet at 12:30 p.m. Monday in the student union building’s Tumbleweed Room.The proposed new tax rate — 17.66 cents per $100 valuation — is actually 6 cents lower than the current rate, but a $1 billion increase in the district’s certified valuations will result in the college pulling in more local tax money this coming fiscal year.The extra money will be needed, officials said, because the college has had to endure three consecutive years of cuts in state allocations, the latest of which could leave Howard $650,000 in the red.A recent “hold harmless” proposal from state leadership would have increased the outlay to Texas community colleges. The catch, however, was that all 50 of the state’s junior colleges would have to sign off on the proposal, and two — South Plains College in Levelland and Trinity Valley Community College in Palestine — refused to agree to the proposal.College President Dr. Cheryl Sparks said the issue wasn’t entirely dead, however.“The Texas Association of Community Colleges is going to be in contact with state leadership, and they will try to make the case that support for the proposal was so overwhelming that it would be appropriate for the state to go forward with the proposed financing,” Sparks said.“But we have no idea at this point whether the state leadership will go forward with the proposal or when they will make a decision on the matter,” Sparks added.Fortunately for the college, local officials did not include the proposed increased funding in the new budget, instead opting to plan for the $650,000 shortfall.If state leaders do not budge from their current position, Sparks said it is very likely that several positions which are currently vacant, with either remain unfilled or eliminated. Those positions include faculty spots in the sociology and computer science departments, as well as two assistant coach posts and custodial, clerical and financial aid openings.Keeping those positions vacant, along with the increase in local tax revenues, will allow the college to submit a balanced budget, Sparks said.In other business Monday, trustees will:• Meet in closed session to interview a candidate for the executive dean/provost position at SouthWest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf.• Consider a faculty retirement resolution, catalog and handbook changes and appointment of professional and administrative staff.Contact Staff Writer Steve Reagan at 263-7331 ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@bigspringherald.com