Northwest school district seeks help on budget

FORT WORTH -- Northwest school district officials are seeking the public's help in solving next year's near-certain budget crisis. The superintendent will host a public forum Jan. 4 to educate parents about the budget and what may be severe financial cuts coming from the state.

From programs to raises, every item in the district's budget is being eyed for cuts, save one.

"Because we're a growing district, reduction in force [layoffs] is not on the table," Chief Financial Officer Jon Graswich said.

Legislators expect a budget shortfall of $12 billion to $25 billion in the next biennium. With state cuts and drops in local property tax revenue, school districts are scrambling. In the Grapevine-Colleyville district, for example, trustees recently learned that a tax increase will not be enough to make up the deficit. They're looking at program cuts and staff reductions.

Northwest officials met with principals this month, giving them and their staffs the task of looking for places to cut. Public input will also help guide the process, which begins in January. The budget must be completed by July 1.

The problem is "we cannot complete the process until the state tells us what they're going to do," Superintendent Karen Rue said. That will likely come in late May, she said.

Between then and now, Northwest officials plan to create two budgets.

One assumes no change from last year, even as the district opens two new elementary schools and adds more than 1,000 students. The current year's general fund budget had $154.4 million in revenue and $153.9 million in expenditures.

The second scenario assumes a reduction of last year's budget by $12 million. The second scenario is one of three put forth by education funding consultants Moak Casey & Associates.

District officials say that they are trying to be prepared but that the state may take an entirely different route.

Northwest, which is already recognized in the state comptroller's Financial Allocation Study for Texas report as a high-efficiency, low-cost district, is looking for still more ways to be efficient.

"We're capable and we're confident that we can do this, and we'll do it, but we're not going to promise that you won't feel it," Rue said.

The school finance forum begins at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4 in the district's Professional Development Center, 2001 Texan Drive.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.