Fort Worth school trustees talk tax vote as deep cuts loom in 2012-13 budget

FORT WORTH -- Facing dire cuts in next year's budget, some Fort Worth school trustees said Tuesday night that it might be time to consider asking voters for a property tax rate increase.

Also, administrators said they plan to begin meeting with employees this week to notify them that they may not have jobs for the 2012-13 school year.

Which positions might be targeted was not mentioned at the budget workshop. However, district Chief Financial Officer Hank Johnson said the reductions will be part of about $3.5 million in personnel and operating cuts that administrators will present to the school board next week.

The district faces about a $40 million shortfall for the 2012-13 budget, which must be adopted by the end of June.

State funding cuts for the district totaled about $55 million for this year and next.

Trustee Christene Moss said it might be time to consider a tax rate increase. Johnson said the district could raise up to $44 million if voters approve.

Trustee Judy Needham, who has spoken against calling such an election, conceded that the board should have a work session to discuss voter response. She said she thought it would be "an uphill battle."

Johnson suggested a community survey to gauge support.

Under the 2006 state school financing law, school districts must ask voters' permission to raise property tax rates.

Among the decisions facing trustees is whether the district will pick up the nearly $5.8 million tab for some special-education teachers, pre-kindergarten assistants and science lab assistants that federal funds had covered last year, or eliminate those positions.

Some tightening can be done on staffing ratios -- such as the number of librarian assistants or custodians -- at each campus, Johnson said.

"I know there are things we don't want to see cut," Moss said. "But we're really going to have to buckle down and make the cuts."

Steven Poole of the United Educators Association encouraged the board to seek an election and consider raises.

His group has noted that Fort Worth is slipping in teacher salaries compared with other area districts.

A 1 percent raise for all employees would cost the district nearly $5 million.

Trustee T.A. Sims presided over his first meeting as school board president.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

Twitter: @fwstayala