Fort Worth trustees approve $696 million budget for 2014-2015

06/24/2014 8:53 PM

06/24/2014 11:07 PM

The school board approved a budget of almost $700 million for 2014-2015 that includes across the board raises of about 3 percent, almost 300 new jobs and more pre-kindergarten classrooms.

The vote to approve the budget was 7-1 with Trustee Ann Sutherland voting no. Cinto Ramos was absent.

“I’m concerned about this budget,” Sutherland said. “I believe the spending level is unsustainable.”

At the same time, she urged the district to make it a priority to reduce class sizes to the 2010-11 level, which she anticipated would cost an additional $9 million.

“I would like a commitment on the part of the board that if there’s extra money, to put it toward that end, either at the end of semester or the beginning of the 2015-16 school year,” Sutherland said.

Trustee Christene Moss said the new superintendent could be charged with looking at class sizes.

The district is operating under Interim Superintendent Pat Linares. Former superintendent Walter Dansby retired June 2. A formal search for his replacement has not begun.

The board is expected to adopt a tax rate at its Aug. 26 board meeting. No tax increase is anticipated.

The new budget totals $696.7 million for the general fund and debt service. It includes 3 percent raises for employees.

Other board members have agreed with Sutherland that 2014-15 spending levels are unsustainable over time, but say they plan to make adjustments in order to stay in the black in future years.

“This is the most comprehensive budget I have ever seen,’’ board member Judy Needham said.

She congratulated the administrative staff who prepared the budget proposal.

To pay for new “enhancements,” the board agreed to take $21 million from an abundant reserve fund. The list includes more than 200 teaching and non-teaching positions, additional counselors in high schools, and in pre-K, 60 teaching and teachers assistant positions and 30 classrooms.

This year, the district had projected its reserve fund to climb to an estimated $181 million, which far exceeds the Texas Education Agency recommendation for good school district fiscal policy.

The fund balance is expected to drop to about $153 million after the enhancements are paid for, school officials said.

Some board members said the reserve fund could drop to as low as $100 million and still represent sound management.

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