This story has been updated.
FORT WORTH Fort Worth school trustees are poised to vote on an estimated $792.9 million general fund budget that includes a 2 percent pay raise for all employees — a move that brings the starting salary for beginning teachers up to $53,000.
The salary increases are covered in a $12.2 million item in the general fund budget for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year. The budget includes another $3.2 million earmarked for the district's leadership academies and $800,000 for a substitute incentive program, said Elsie Schiro, chief financial officer for Fort Worth schools. Those are continually expenses added to the budget, she said.
About $12 million are earmarked for security and monitoring services for the district. It is money built in to pay for school safety needs, Schiro said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
Trustee Ann Sutherland, who represents District 6, said she is voting against the budget.
"I am very concerned about the cutting of staff at the secondary level,” Sutherland said, adding that she is worried this move will result in larger class loads for teachers. She said she is also concerned that the district puts more money into central administration undercutting schools.
“They are very discouraged,” Sutherland said of teachers who complained to her.
Specifically, teachers complained about a recent recruitment effort in which the district reached out to teachers out-of-state at the same time it was reassigning about 150 teachers.
But Superintendent Kent Scribner defended the proposed budget, explaining that reflects investment in schools while adjusting for a decrease in students experienced by the district.
“I am confident that the board will support this budget,” Scribner said.
Scribner said because of demographics shifts, the district had over budgeted in staff. The proposed budget adjusts for student demographic shifts and complies with teacher-to-student ratios, he said. Additionally, the readjustment reflects placing teachers in areas they are needed, he said.
“We saw a decrease of a little over 1,000 students,” Scribner said, adding: "We were actual $9 million overstaffed at that point.”
Still, the district is hiring 95 teachers as part of this budget, including teachers for the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA campus and sixty teachers with expertise in teaching students with dyslexia.
Scribner defended expenses tied to central office. He said many are actually assets for campuses — such as school nurses and behavior interventionists.
"The assertion that central office expenditures is growing is simply not true,” Scribner said.
Tobi Jackson, president of the school board, told the Star-Telegram she is studying the proposed budget.
"I am reviewing all options," Jackson said in a text message. "The staffing is of great concern."
Paz said the budget is an evolving plan that typically calls for amendments throughout the year. She said district worked to find funding to pay for raises — even if it is not a large increase.
“We have to fight to get that two percent every year,” Paz said.
The budget, which will be voted on after a public hearing, includes a $37 million deficit. Schiro said the district budgets items at 100 percent, but actually spends at about 97 percent.
"That deficit will be gone by year end," she said.
The budget comes weeks after the district made national headlines by recruiting teachers in Oklahoma and Arizona.
Earlier this year, the district put up billboards in Norman, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Stillwater with a message to teachers: "Your Future is in a Fort Worth Classroom — Teacher Starting Salary $52,000." Later, the district launched a similar campaign in Phoenix, Ariz. That campaign includes five billboards for $10,000, according to school district spokesman Clint Bond. The Oklahoma billboard campaign cost $20,000 for 10 billboards, according to the district.
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.