Fort Worth school district budget includes 2% raise

FORT WORTH -- Trustees adopted a budget Tuesday night for fiscal 2011 that includes a 2 percent raise for all employees, but providing that increase bumps the district's expected shortfall to nearly $27.9 million.

The vote was 8-1 for a total budget of $602 million. Trustee Norm Robbins voted no.

Superintendent Melody Johnson said the shortfall will mean going to personnel "in some form or fashion" to save money as administrators continue to look for ways to trim costs.

Trustee Carlos Vasquez made the motion for a 2 percent raise. Administrators have not given accurate updates on the district's reserves over the past year, which he said could now handle a deficit for a raise, he said.

"It disappoints me that we don't think about employees," he said while pushing for the raise.

The district's reserves are expected to be $121.6 million by the end of the month.

Board President Ray Dickerson said he supported giving teachers the raise to reward them for academic improvements. But he said he was worried about the future impact.

"I'm concerned that we're moving to the edge of a very, very slippery slope," he said.

Officials have cautioned against using reserves because inflation is not taken into account in making projections and because state budget woes could mean reductions in the amount of money the district receives.

The tax rate will remain the same. The debt service tax rate is 28.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value, about 4 cents lower than officials expected it to be when voters approved the 2007 bond package, which includes five new schools and renovations districtwide.

Officials have said trustees will likely need to consider a tax election next year to raise the maintenance and operating tax rate, now $1.04 per $100.

Canceled lease

Trustees voted to cancel the $147,800 lease for the Horizons Alternative School, which serves middle schoolers with discipline problems.

Its students will attend the Middle Level Learning Center near Montgomery Street and Interstate 30, about eight miles away.

About $6 million in cuts has been identified, including reorganizing central administration and other departments, reducing travel, eliminating vacant positions, reducing extra-duty pay, and using more part-timers and contractors.

Support for New Lives

About 35 students, teachers and family members attended the meeting to show support for the Center for New Lives, the district's school for pregnant and parenting teens.

Gabrielle Salazar, 19 and seven months pregnant, said she was a dropout, half a semester short of graduating, when she found out about New Lives.

"This school has taught me how to take responsibility, how to stay organized and keep going no matter what," Salazar said.

Officials discussed closing the school and placing its students in another district program that works with such students at their home campuses.

Administrators suggested Tuesday that the board vote on the issue in November with possible changes implemented in August 2011.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700