The district has identified about two-thirds of the cuts it needs to make to eliminate $30 million from the budget, according to officials. Chief financial officer Hank Johnson told the board late Tuesday night that administrators have identified about $19.6 million in cuts so far. “I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope it’s an oncoming train,” he joked. Johnson briefly presented $1.4 million in possible contract reductions that included cutting ties with the city on a partnership for truancy court and eliminating the district’s share of paying for Communities In School.
Trustee Juan Rangel has pushed for eliminating the truancy court saying it costs too much money, doesn’t provide results and that the district picks up most of the cost while the city benefits from fines students or parents pay. “This is a losing proposition,” he said.
Fort Worth’s dedicated court was one of the first in the nation and the first in Texas dedicated to truancy cases when it was created in 2001. Students with 10 or more absences are referred to the court.
Administrators said absences did decrease for about 80 percent of students who attended hearings at the court.
Chuck Hoffman, assistant superintendent of governance and student relations, said the district is working with county officials to explore the possibility of creating court that serves other Tarrant County districts as well and would not cost the district. It would be modeled after a similar court in Dallas County. Hoffman said district officials plan to meet with others on that possibility within the next two weeks.
Officials said the district would eliminate its portion of Communities In Schools but noted that grants pay for other services with the dropout prevention network. The preliminary state budget proposals also would eliminate all funding Texas provides to the programs, which are also funded through private donations.
Communities In Schools works with students across the state by providing caseworkers and other resources to students at-risk of dropping out of school. It has been recognized in various studies, including one requested by the Legislature, as one of the most effective dropout-prevention programs.
Other changes administrators presented included reductions in summer school. The preliminary budgets have the state is cutting its share of the program. In order to cover the cost of the program alone, administrators recommend increasing the student to teacher ratios in elementary school to 18:1 from about 12:1 and up to 22:1 in middle school. They also recommend offering summer school on fewer campuses and shortening the day for elementary classes.
At times, trustees said they wanted more time to study various recommendations or to delay the cuts. But administrators reminded the board that many deadlines are nearing – such as when to notify some employees if their contracts will not be renewed – and that any recommendation delayed means more money back into the budget.