Fort Worth

Budget woes: Fort Worth school district may dip into reserves

The Fort Worth school district may have to dip into reserves as officials prepare for the 2016-17 budget.
The Fort Worth school district may have to dip into reserves as officials prepare for the 2016-17 budget. Star-Telegram archives

For the second consecutive year the Fort Worth school district officials face reaching into their fund balance, this time for $19 million to help cover expenditures of $744 million for the 2016-2017 school year, preliminary figures show.

The expenditures include an anticipated $22.8 million to pay for facility upgrades and more staff related to growth, such as expansion of specialty schools.

A tax rate increase to cover costs has not been discussed.

Chief Financial Officer Elsie Schiro released the preliminary figures at a recent budget workshop. The next workshop is scheduled for April 19.

Schiro told trustees on Thursday that the district isn’t pulling in enough revenues from new students to support its host of specialty programs. It announced a year ago that it had to pull $21 million from reserves to cover $704 million in expenditures under the 2015-2016 budget.

Part of last year’s shortfall was blamed on a software glitch with the Tarrant Appraisal District that Schiro said cost the district $12 million.

$19 million amount expected to be taken from reserves to help fund the 2016-17 budget.

The district is growing by about 1,000 students a year, which includes a surge in pre-Kindergarten enrollment, Schiro said.

Some of the district’s specialty schools have such low enrollments that it may cost the district up to $10,000 per-pupil to educate the youngsters at some campuses.

Some trustees weren’t happy to hear about the lopsided budget.

“We got all this stuff and we’re not getting 1,800 new kids a year,” Trustee Judy Needham said. “We probably shouldn’t add any more programs for a while.”

The district, over the last several years, has opened up more than a dozen specialty programs, from a pair of same-sex schools to a stand-alone campus for students hoping to learn more than two foreign languages.

Each year, the programs expand to include a new grade level, and more teachers are needed to handle the growth, Schiro explained. The district also has opened dozens of pre-Kindergarten classrooms at a number of campuses.

Over the next two years, the district expects to open a multi-million dollar campus for students interested in the performing arts and a school for students bent on careers in science, technology, math and engineering. The construction is being paid for as part of a bond referendum approved by voters in 2013.

The district’s revenue, which come from from state, federal and local tax collections, is projected at $714 million.

We got all this stuff and we’re not getting 1,800 new kids a year.

Trustee Judy Needham

Last year, early estimates showed that a 1 percent pay increase would cost the district an annual $6.1 million.

Rising costs

A breakdown of growth-related costs for 2016-17 include:

▪  $4.6 million for program growth;

▪  $7.64 million on student growth;

▪  $10.6 million on facilities improvements;

▪  $1.3 million on student achievement commitments.

As of June 30, the district’s reserves fund is expected to stand at $161 million and is at a healthy level, according to the Texas Education Agency, Schiro said.

Trustees have to adopt a budget by July 1, when the new fiscal year starts.

Yamil Berard: 817-390-7705, @yberard