Keller ISD to make staffing cuts in preparation for 2024-25 budget deficit. Fine arts programs are spared

dfwnewsa | January 26, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Keller ISD to make staffing cuts in preparation for 2024-25 budget deficit. Fine arts programs are spared

Superintendent Tracy Johnson and board President Charles Randklev listen and take notes during a report given during a Jan. 3 special board meeting. At a Jan. 25 meeting, Keller ISD announced districtwide cuts. (Matthew Sgroi | Fort Worth Report)
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Keller ISD soon will make sweeping cuts across the district.

“If we don’t get this fixed, right now, this year, then we run a risk of not having a Keller ISD,” said Superintendent Tracy Johnson at a Jan. 25 board meeting. 

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The district will need to save $28 million to stay over deficit in its 2024-25 budget, Johnson said. That’s 12.5% of 2023-24’s proposed budget of $225.8 million.

If the district wants to stay afloat, people will need to be let go, she said.

“You can’t find that money in papers and paperclips and toner, you find it in people,” Johnson said. She said 86% of Keller ISD’s budget is reserved toward staff and faculty.

What’s causing Keller ISD’s budget deficit? 

Student technology: $5,137,991

Increase in transportation/fuel: $4,724,780

Reduced enrollment projection for 2024-25: $4,130,891

Increase in utilities: $3,942,248

Ongoing costs from the expiration of ESSER (pandemic relief funds): $3,200,000

Eliminate transfer from workers’ comp fund: $3,000,000

Increase in property insurance: $2,145,025

10-year budget for facility repairs: $1,146,700

Preliminary budget deficit: $27,427,635

“This weighs heavy on every single one of us,” said Johnson. “This is not positive, this is not something that we celebrate, these are real cuts.”

Major cuts are those to librarians and staffing cuts to the district’s administrative offices, which houses 15% of the district’s $27 million deficit. 

The district will not be eliminating any programs for students. 

“We’re not taking away opportunities for kids, we’re still going to focus on instruction,” Johnson said. “Those were nonnegotiables.” 

Instead, the district is dialing down the reach some programs may have.

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Some district campuses will now share librarians, academic instructional coaches will no longer visit every campus, and sixth grade bilingual students will see less instruction in Spanish. 

The district is also narrowing the reach of early childhood education services and summer learning programs. 

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During the public comment portion of the meeting, parents expressed concern that some fine arts programs were to be cut to nothing. 

“We are not eliminating any sports or fine arts program,” said Eric Persyn, Keller ISD director of athletics.

However, staffing cuts may be made based on staffing guidelines. Those guidelines are based on student data and participation. 

“We need to make these adjustments in this district,” Johnson said. “We can’t continue.”

The district blames the state Legislature for its hand in Keller ISD’s budgeting demise. After lawmakers didn’t pass multiple education funding bills, the state is left with a $40 billion surplus. 

“Our state could fix this problem today,” she said. “But there is no hope. We’re going to have to solve this problem ourselves.”

Other Tarrant County districts, like Fort Worth ISD and Carroll ISD, are also facing budget deficits. 

“This is an unprecedented amount of investment left on the table,” Matthew Hall, regional advocacy director for Raise Your Hand Texas, said. 

Among state funding and taxpayer revenue, Texas is the eighth-least funded state in the country for public education, according to Raise Your Hand Texas. 

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Parents and taxpayers aren’t quick to blame lawmakers in Austin for the district’s $27 million problem.

Out of 1,018 reported school districts in the Texas Education Agency’s financial accountability ratings, only 49 districts have a C, or less, rating. Keller ISD is one of them. 

“You can’t blame everything on Austin. Why are we ever having to take any desperate measures?” said community member Sherry Oden. “I can’t help to think our financial accountability rating may have something to do with it.”

The district said its emphasis is on finding solutions to deliver impactful instruction for all students.

Staffing cuts are one part of it.

“The reality is we all have the same focus, and the focus is doing what’s best for our Keller ISD students,” Johnson said.

Matthew Sgroi is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org or @MatthewSgroi1 on X, formerly known as Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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