Local School Board Members Discuss Challenges

Citizens Defending Freedom logo | Image by CDF

Citizens Defending Freedom hosted a panel on Thursday of local school board members at the Golden Triangle Library in Fort Worth to discuss some of the challenges in education today.

Citizens Defending Freedom is a national non-profit organization that promotes citizen involvement in local government. Its website explains that it aims to equip citizens with “tools and support … to defend their freedom and liberty, and place local government back into the hands of the people.”

A.J. Pontillo from Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Andrew Yeager from Southlake-Carroll ISD, and Dr. Michael Ryan from Fort Worth ISD were involved in Thursday’s panel, which was attended by The Dallas Express. Approximately 30 others were in attendance.

A critical issue emerging during the discussion was the shrinking student body, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

“We’ve lost over 15,000 students. [During] the time before COVID, it was growing and growing well,” Ryan said.

Ryan mentioned that despite having a high teacher pay rate compared to other school districts, Fort Worth ISD continues to lose students, leading to several school closure announcements. He also said the school district will lose 20-30% of its teachers this year.

Yeager noted that decreasing student enrollment has become a trend among all publicly funded school districts. When asked whether unlawful migration to the U.S. would push these numbers up again, he answered that he believes enrollment will continue declining, citing how school districts have been losing students despite population growth.

School districts receive state funding based on student attendance, which has put many — including Dallas ISD, which has chronically put up lackluster academic results — in financial difficulty.

Pontillo said his district has been working to avoid school closures by focusing efforts on improving student achievement to help with student enrollment loss. He also mentioned educating constituents about their school board and their actions.

“We are paying $10,500 or so per student to educate them for the year. The state is giving us, on average, about $6,100 to educate [each child]. So you can see the gap that we are trying to figure out and make out,” Pontillo said.

Fiscal responsibility was also mentioned as being a priority for trustees.

When it comes to fiscal responsibility, Ryan said the question he asks is, “What will it take to conserve the money?”

He noted that he is against deficit spending and supports a balanced budget to help keep the district fiscally sound.

Yeager said his district’s CFO instituted a zero-based budget two years ago.

Other topics discussed included what kinds of ideas students are exposed to within schools.

When asked if LGBTQ clubs have age restrictions, the three trustees said clubs must follow policies and school districts cannot discriminate against clubs. School clubs need a faculty member to be a host, and parents receive permission slips for children to join LGBTQ clubs.

All of the trustees stated that they are against “pornographic” books in libraries and are in compliance with state law regarding the regulation of explicit books in schools.

A self-described conservative serving on a board in which he is a minority, Ryan noted that Fort Worth ISD unanimously passed a sex education curriculum in February that was abstinence-focused.

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