FORT WORTH -- While it is doubtful that the Fort Worth school district can afford to give employees raises, some trustees are concerned that staffers will jump ship to better-paying districts if Fort Worth goes too long without salary increases.
District officials say they are facing a $40 million shortfall, which is expected to be reduced to $27.6 million if various reductions are approved, including layoffs of 84 employees.
Trustees expect to vote this month on a $600 million general fund budget for fiscal 2013, according to a budget report given to the board Tuesday. A compensation plan will be considered in July or early August, said Hank Johnson, Fort Worth schools' chief financial officer.
The district projects that employee pay for fiscal 2012 will total $80.4 million, compared with $83.2 million the previous fiscal year, Johnson said.
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To give raises for fiscal 2013, the district would need to either make more cuts or raise tax revenue through a tax ratification election, Johnson said. The last time employees got a raise was in 2010-11, when trustees approved a 2 percent pay hike.
"It's undetermined how long we're going to stay in this no-revenue scenario," Johnson said. "I can't predict what the outcome of the legislative session is going to be."
Each 1 percent pay raise costs the school district about $5 million, a spokesman said.
Administrators have said the district could raise up to $44 million through a tax ratification election. State law allows school districts to raise the tax rate for maintenance and operations up to 13 cents with voter approval. Fort Worth schools' tax rate is $1.322 per $100 of property value, including $1.04 for maintenance and operations, the state maximum without voter approval.
Trustees have expressed reluctance to support such an election unless they were confident of voter support.
But Trustee Juan Rangel told the board Tuesday that he was concerned that the district could lose talented employees to other school districts if it doesn't give raises in coming years.
"We're sliding backwards," Rangel said. "If we don't turn this thing around, somewhere, sometime, we're going to end up at the bottom."
The United Educators Association is also concerned about the district's ability to attract and keep employees.
"We're really concerned about Fort Worth not being real competitive," said Steven Poole, deputy executive director for the For Worth-based group.
In the group's salary comparison for fiscal 2012, Fort Worth schools ranked 16th out of 31 area school districts for starting salaries.
A beginning Fort Worth teacher was paid $45,405. The top starting salary was at Hurst-Euless-Bedford schools, at $49,250.
Poole said other school districts, including Arlington, Keller and Mansfield, have said they plan to give raises this year.
"When recent [college] graduates and people changing districts can choose between Fort Worth ISD and other districts just a couple miles away, they're going to choose a district a couple miles away every time," Poole said. "School districts are very creative. I know Fort Worth is in a $40 million deficit. I am confident that the superintendent and school board will be able to find some kind of money for raises."
Meanwhile, Trustee Ann Sutherland said "it doesn't look very good" that all the positions on the chopping block come from campuses.
She addressed a group of campus librarians and library clerks, who were wearing red shirts to protest a decision to lay off 21 clerks.
Clerks, who shelve and process books, and staff the library when the librarian is working with teachers, are key to the smooth operations of libraries, said Courtney Butler, librarian at Sam Rosen Elementary School.
"They allow me to focus on the students, teach classes and work with my leadership team to develop programs," Butler said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326