There’s an awkward period every other year at this time for the Fort Worth school district and many others in the state.
The district’s budget must be completed in June, but the Legislature, which meets in odd-numbered years, doesn’t determine how much money it will devote to schools until late May or early June.
School district budget writers are left guessing, virtually until the last minute.
It’s that way this year, and it’s uncomfortable at FWISD. Initial House and Senate appropriation bills could add $5.1 million to the district’s revenue for the 2015-16 school year.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
A proposal from House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, could add millions more.
But it doesn’t work to write “maybe” on a budget line.
And there’s an extra amount of nail-biting in Fort Worth this time around.
Projections presented to the school board Tuesday by Acting Chief Financial Officer Elsie Schiro showed the district’s 2015-16 finances should be OK, but only because of a healthy amount of money left unspent in previous years, what’s called “fund balance.”
The district likes to keep its fund balance in the range of 12 percent to 20 percent of expected expenditures. That way, it can draw money to meet expenses in months when there’s no tax revenue coming in. The alternative is to borrow money to meet cash-flow needs, and that’s never good if you can avoid it.
Schiro’s projections show that, with a conservative estimate of the state contribution, FWISD will have to use $21 million out of its $153.2 million fund balance to make ends meet in the coming year.
There’s even room for teacher and employee pay raises without drawing the fund balance down too low.
But projections for 2016-17 aren’t so good. Unless the Legislature steps up, there won’t be room for another $21 million hit to the fund balance that year.
School board members should be formulating ideas about what to do if worse comes to worst.