The Fort Worth school district will have to reach into its fund balance and get $21 million just to cover basic expenditures of $704 million for the 2015-16 school year, school officials said.
More money could come from the state under an appropriations bill in the Texas Legislature that would add about $6 million to the district’s budget. The increase would help with raises and a planned increase in beginning teachers’ salaries, chief financial officer Elsie Schiro said.
But if state money for the district doesn’t grow, raises would be nearly impossible without taking even more from reserves, Schiro indicated.
A tax increase to cover costs has not been discussed.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The basic expenditures include $12.1 million in program growth costs such as hiring 138 more full-time employees for new pre-kindergarten classrooms and expanding other programs.
Trustee Judy Needham said she was alarmed that the district was already facing deficit spending before considering raises for employees.
Just a 1 percent pay increase would cost the district an annual $6.1 million. Ratcheting up the beginning teacher’s salary to $50,000 from the current $48,300 a year would cost an extra $2 million a year.
“We keep passing deficit budgets,” Needham said at Tuesday’s regular board meeting. “We’re adding ... people like crazy and new schools. At some point, we’re going to have to cut 10 to 20 percent across the board or we’re going to be out of money.”
The district is adding dozens of classrooms at many schools as part of the $490 million bond program passed by voters in November 2012. The bond money is also paying for two replacement schools, technology upgrades and kitchen and cafeteria renovations at many campuses.
“It’s real fun to do this now, but with this bond issue ... we cannot continue to have deficits of $30 to $50 million,’’ Needham said.
Trustee Ann Sutherland last June called the district’s spending level “unsustainable.” At the time, other board members, including Needham, said they planned to make adjustments to stay in the black in future years.
Last year, the district approved a budget of about $696 million that included across-the-board pay raises of about 3 percent and almost 300 new jobs.
The jobs included more than 200 teaching and non-teaching positions such as additional counselors in high schools. For pre-K, the budget included 60 teaching and teacher’s assistant positions.
Last year, the district projected its reserve would climb to $181 million. But in August, it had to pull about $40 million out when a technological glitch caused an overpayment from the state. The district had to dip into the fund balance to pay back the money.
For 2015-16, the ending fund balance is expected to be near $132 million, based on Tuesday’s projections. The ending fund balance for 2016-2017 is expected to be $101.6 million, officials reported.
The state recommends that districts set aside 12 to 20 percent of total expenditures in a fund balance or reserve.
Interim Superintendent Pat Linares, who took over last June when Superintendent Walter Dansby abruptly resigned June 2, said the district did not implement all of the proposed enhancements that were made public during the development of the 2014-15 budget.
She told trustees at Tuesday’s regular board meeting that the priority is to pay for program growth — “what is necessary for the classroom.”
The district may have a better idea of state revenues after an upcoming budget workshop, Schiro said.
The Legislature is looking at whether to make adjustments in the state formula that determines the state’s allotment to individual school districts. Schiro estimated that the increase could add an annual $5 to $6 million to the district’s general fund.
The legislative session is expected to last through the end of May.
“Until we have definitive answers on school finance reform, it’s very difficult for me to make a lot of recommendations at this time,’’ Schiro told trustees at the Tuesday meeting.
District officials are required to finalize the 2015-16 budget by June 23.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705