By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

LAMPASAS — In an effort to cope with an expected budget deficit of $1.8 million for the 2012-2013 school year, the Lampasas Independent School District may consider instituting a program that will encourage employees to announce their retirement early.

Randall Hoyer, the district's superintendent, said he floated the possibility of an early retirement incentive program to the Lampasas ISD board of trustees at a workshop meeting earlier this week.

"There was no action taken," Hoyer said. "We just wanted to see if they were interested in looking into it and having further discussion."

Hoyer said the details of the program haven't been finalized, but Lampasas wouldn't be the only district in the state to initiate such a program.

The Copperas Cove Independent School District instituted its own early retirement incentive program in November 2011. That program offered staff, including teachers, a one-time payment if they announced their intentions to resign at the end of the school year.

Hoyer said the program, if it comes to fruition, would be similar.

"It would be an early notification incentive and a recognition of loyalty to the district," he said.

Such a program also could save the district money and possibly curtail or reduce layoffs, which might be necessary to cut down on costs in a district where 80 percent of the budget goes to expenses associated with personnel and payroll.

"It would help avoid a RIF, if it came to that," Hoyer said. "In terms of cost, there is obviously a savings when you have a 30-year teacher leaving and they are replaced by a teacher with, say, zero-to-five years experience."

This year, despite the deficit, Hoyer said the board is happy with the direction the district is going, and the quality of education Lampasas is offering its students. That, coupled with a fund balance of about $14 million, has made the board more willing to adopt a deficit budget for the upcoming school year, Hoyer said.

"But you can't live off the fund balance long term," Hoyer said. "When you look two, three or four years down the road, you cannot sustain a deficit budget."

That long-term reality means the board and the district could have some tough decisions to make ahead of them, including the possibility of closing down a campus.

Hoyer said the closing of Kline Whitis Elementary School isn't an immediate possibility, but might be an option to cope with cuts farther down the road. The closure of the campus would save the district approximately $600,000 to $800,000 overtime. In the meantime, the district is considering other cost saving measures, including a "pay-to-play" system where students would be charged a fee to participate in extracurricular activities.

Hoyer said the early retirement incentive program will be brought up again for further discussion at the next board meeting, which will occur in September.

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