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North Texas ISDs Face Hard Choices

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Classroom | Image by maroke/Shutterstock

Several North Texas school districts are weighing different options to deal with growing budget shortfalls amid low student enrollment and rising salary requirements to attract high-quality teachers.

Officials in Richardson, Fort Worth, Plano, Keller, and Irving ISD are some of the latest to grapple with difficult decisions regarding budgetary constraints. The consolidation of campuses, the cutting of unpopular or underperforming programs, the implementation of zero-based department budgets, and the layoff of staff are just some of the different strategies that have been raised by school administrators across the region.

“It’s rough out there,” said Amanda Brownson, deputy executive director of the Texas Association of School Business Officials, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“Some districts are out of time, and some districts have a couple of years and they can implement the cuts slowly over time,” she added.

For instance, while Plano ISD has yet to announce any closures since it publicized the possibility last fall, Irving ISD revealed that it would be shuttering two campuses next school year: Britain and Elliott elementary schools.

Moreover, in February, Richardson ISD revealed that due to low enrollment, it would close four elementary schools as well as a pre-K campus and redraw attendance boundaries, as reported by The Dallas Express. The schools appearing on the chopping block have under 60% attendance — Greenwood Hills, Springridge, Thurgood Marshall, and Spring Valley elementary schools, as well as the Dobie pre-K campus.

Upon announcing that the consolidation plan had been approved by the district’s school board in March, the district stated that while the closures would initially cost around $10 million, they would result in an estimated $10.5 million savings annually.

Similarly, as covered by The Dallas Express, Fort Worth ISD’s school board passed a resolution to cut 133 positions — most of which had been federally funded — to reduce its deficit of $186 million. It is holding an internal job fair to see affected staff allocated elsewhere within the district. It is also contemplating school closures, although only one has been announced so far — Wedgewood 6th Grade, which will be consolidated with Wedgewood Middle School.

Many school officials have blamed Gov. Greg Abbott’s quest to see universal education savings accounts pass the Texas Legislature as contributing to their budgetary woes, as covered by The Dallas Express. The issue has delayed any legislative effort to increase state school funding — which has remained at a base amount of $6,160 per student since the 2018-2019 school year.

“The one person we point the finger at, the one person alone, is Greg Abbott,” said Clay Robison, a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA), according to the Dallas Observer. TSTA has been supporting anti-school choice candidates in the Republican House primary and the upcoming runoffs.

The declining student enrollment figures are considerable drivers of budgetary issues, with fewer students translating directly into fewer state dollars. Moreover, the contributing factors behind low enrollment are complex, ranging from nationwide issues of demographic shifts and federal pandemic relief funding expiring to local ones of families with school-aged children not finding housing options within attendance zones.

The lackluster academic performance of certain districts can also be pointed to as contributing to shrinking student bodies. For instance, Dallas ISD, another district seeing steadily declining enrollment these past few years, saw only 41% of its students hit the at-grade-level mark on the STAAR exam in 2021-2022, the latest available Texas Education Agency accountability report revealed. Meanwhile, just 81.1% of graduating seniors managed to earn a diploma within four years.

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