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Salary Bump Knocks Local ISD’s Budget Off-Kilter

Piggy bank with books on blackboard background
Piggy bank with books on blackboard background | Image by Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Fort Worth ISD’s school board recently approved a 2% salary increase district-wide, creating a budget deficit of millions of dollars.

Plans to raise salaries for full-time teachers and staff at Fort Worth ISD passed in a 7-1 vote during a board meeting on May 28. Board Secretary and District 8 Trustee Anael Luebanos abstained, while District 5 Trustee Kevin Lynch opposed the measure.

The 2% bump would cost the taxpayers $17.7 million and raise the starting teacher’s salary to $63,000. It also includes a $44 monthly contribution for district-covered healthcare — up from $33 a month — for the approximately 6,200 employees participating in the program.

As CFO Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria explained during the meeting, the budget had been planned with several strategic priorities, including “student academic excellence, student and family experience, employee engagement and effectiveness, and organizational effectiveness.”

With Fort Worth ISD’s general fund reserves expected to be $358.9 million, expenses would have covered more than 151 operating days without the new compensation plan. With it, roughly eight fewer days are covered, which still aligns the district with the Government Finance Officers Association’s recommendation for districts to maintain 60-90 days of reserves.

“We would be able to bring a balanced budget only if that meant zero on the compensation side, knowing that a recommendation from staff would be to increase,” Superintendent Angelica Ramsey said, per the Fort Worth Report. “Because the Legislature did not act, we would be asking the board to dip into the reserves for compensation for our employees.”

The board will finalize the budget for the next school year on June 11.

Fort Worth ISD has been faced with challenging decisions this year, from flagging enrollment to aging facilities. Despite having paid $2 million in taxpayer money for a capacity study last year, plans to consolidate some of the campuses earmarked for closure for being less than 70% occupied were canceled after public outcry, as previously covered by The Dallas Express.

The targeted campuses are now slated for renovations using funds from the $1.2 billion bond passed in 2021.

Dallas ISD has also managed to plan a budget that includes a teacher salary hike without campus closures, as covered by The Dallas Express. Similarly, the budget is unbalanced, with a projected shortfall of about $152 million.

Both school districts have struggled academically, contributing to their shrinking student bodies amongst increased competition from private schools, charters, and other education alternatives.

According to the latest Texas Education Agency accountability reports, in the 2021-2022 school year, just 32% of Fort Worth ISD students scored at grade level on the STAAR, while 41% of Dallas ISD students did so that same year. FWISD edged out Dallas ISD in terms of its on-time graduation rate, with 85.7% of graduating seniors from Fort Worth receiving a diploma within four years, compared to just 81.1% in Dallas.

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