Trustees with the Robstown Independent School District last week unanimously approved a $24.3 million balanced budget, but employees voiced their displeasure at the district’s decision to cut incentives in order to do so.

Campus administrators and teachers addressed the school board during an Aug. 30 public hearing in order to express their concerns about the district’s use of $1.9 million in funding, made possible by last year’s passage of the Tax Ratification Election, to balance the 2011-12 budget.

The money was used in the 2010-11 fiscal cycle to provide incentives to district employees to help offset rising healthcare insurance costs, but RISD Superintendent Alfonso Obregon said the district had no choice but to reallocate the funding in order to address this year’s budget shortfall.

Trustee Robert Tapia, who is up for re-election in November 2012, said while he did support the administration’s decision, he was unhappy with the situation, particularly since he had supported the TRE last year under the condition that the money would go towards helping the district’s educators financially.

“I’m looking like I misinformed the public and that looks bad on me if I decide to run again,” he said.

Some educators told the board that the trustees’ decision to eliminate those incentives this year would greatly impact employees who are facing even higher insurance costs, and could force them to get rid of the health insurance altogether to help make ends meet.

“If anybody knows about doing more with less, it’s educators. We’ve been doing it for years,” teacher Madeline Caraway said.

Caraway said the action taken by the board could have severe repercussions for the district and its students, and could lead to an exodus of educators.

“Now the budget is balanced for the RISD. But what about the morale of your teachers?” she asked.

Trustees Osvaldo Romero, Tapia, Richard Gonzalez and Adolfo Lopez all addressed the teachers and administrators in attendance, with each claiming they sympathized with the difficulty facing district employees this year. But, Romero added, the upside is the move to utilize the TRE funding in order to balance the budget means more than 40 employees will stay employed for at least one more year.

That number was given as an estimate by Obregon as to how many positions would have to be eliminated in order to offset the $1.9 million hit.

“I’m happy that people have jobs — that’s the primary thing,” Romero said, though he did acknowledge that staff cuts may be necessary during the 2012-13 budget planning process.

Trustees approved the budget in a 4-0 vote. They then unanimously voted to raise the district’s debt service tax rate by 13 cents to 48 cents per $100 valuation. The move was necessary to provide suitable revenue for the district’s upcoming debt payments, as well as improving the debt service reserve fund balance, Business Manager Jodi Schroedter said.

The overall tax rate jumped from $1.52 per $100 valuation in 2010-11 to $1.65 per $100 valuation this fiscal cycle.

The maintenance and operations rate will remain at $1.17 per $100 valuation since that is the maximum rate the district can legally tax residents.

That rate was implemented after voters approved the Tax Ratification Election in November.