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As Fort Worth ISD struggles with declining enrollment, school board candidates offer solutions

Students at a table with pant supplies. A teacher on the left side helps the students.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Students paint in a pre-K class at J.T. Stevens Elementary School. Fort Worth ISD is trying to increase pre-K enrollment.

The next few years for the Fort Worth ISD school board will be filled with tough decisions as district leaders deal with the effects of declining enrollment.

Eight candidates are running for three single-member seats to have a say in those discussions. Most told the Fort Worth Report the best way to turn around enrollment is to focus on boosting academic performance.

Fort Worth ISD has lost an average of 2,436 students annually since 2017. Superintendent Angélica Ramsey expects enrollment to flatten at 55,000 students.

Ramsey is in the middle of a reorganization of the district so that it is leaner, cheaper and more focused on student achievement.

When to vote

Early voting begins April 24 and ends May 2. Election Day is May 6.

School closures are likely on the horizon for Fort Worth ISD because of enrollment drops and a tighter budget. Two incumbent trustees told the Report closures are coming, but those plans will come from the superintendent and the school board will consider formally backing them.

District 3

A woman stands with her hands on her hips outside.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Valeria Nevárez is running for Fort Worth ISD school board in District 3.

Valeria Nevárez, one of two challengers in District 3, boiled down Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment drop to three reasons — lack of transparency, lackluster communication and subpar student outcomes.

“If we got those down, enrollment will go up,” she said.

While campaigning, Nevárez has heard from parents who left the district because their children were not at grade level, she said. Good teachers are leaving, too, she said.

As trustee, Nevárez wants to give teachers the tools they need to improve student outcomes, she said.

Focus on the basics and people should return to Fort Worth ISD, Nevárez said.

A man sits in front of a microphone.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Fort Worth ISD District 3 candidate and current trustee Quinton Phillips speaks during a candidate forum March 30.

Incumbent District 3 trustee Quinton Phillips wants the district to analyze where families are going when they leave Fort Worth ISD. Shifting demographics and increased competition from charter schools and traditional school districts have contributed to the decline.

As enrollment declined, the number of people living inside Fort Worth ISD increased 18% to 543,738 since 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fewer young children are living inside Fort Worth ISD. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of residents 5 and younger dropped 4% to 38,251.

Phillips recalled a conversation he had with some fellow Fort Worth ISD alumni. They discussed how they decided where to send their children to school. But their home district didn’t lead their conversation, he said.

“What we have to do now is make sure Fort Worth ISD is the first choice,” Phillips said.

A woman sits in front of a microphone.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Fort Worth ISD school board District 3 candidate Mar’Tayshia James speaks at a candidate forum on March 30.

Fort Worth ISD needs to be a top performing school district to lure people back, he said.

Candidate Mar’Tayshia James attributed Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment decline to families wanting better educational choice and activities. However, the district has plenty of those choices, she said.

For example, she pointed to Dunbar High School as the only campus in Fort Worth ISD with an aviation program. Students are learning crucial skills for future careers and reinforcing other lessons, like math, she said.

Fort Worth ISD needs to capitalize on the successes of its unique programs, James said.

“I feel as though we need to focus on making sure that our community knows what our schools offer,” she said.

District 2

A woman sits in front of a microphone. A name plate in front of her reads "Jackson."
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
School board president Tobi Jackson addresses community members at a candidate forum on March 30. Jackson is up for re-election in District 2.

Which schools close will be up to Ramsey and her administration, District 2 trustee Tobi Jackson said. However, closures are inevitable, Jackson said.

“It’s happening across the United States of America, and that’s OK. It’s a challenge we’ll deal with and we’ll do what’s best for kids and keep rockin’ and rollin’,” Jackson said.

Part of why some families have left Fort Worth ISD is that other traditional school districts and charter schools have newer schools, Jackson said.

“Don’t be fooled by new,” Jackson said. “We have new bright shiny buildings, too. We’ve been doing this for over 100 years, and we’re very good at what we do.”

A woman sits in front of a long wooden table with a window in the background.
Kristen Barton
Fort Worth Report
Pat Carlson is challenging trustee Tobi Jackson for her District 2 seat on the Fort Worth ISD school board.

Jackson’s challenger, Pat Carlson, attributed Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment losses to students not learning what they need to be successful.

“We just have to look at the curriculum,” Carlson said. “I think it’s all this extra stuff that we’re putting into our classrooms … this racial equity department, this climate change stuff. We’re pushing so much stuff on our students instead of talking about reading, math and arithmetic, giving them the basic tools to be successful in life.”

Carlson has not looked at what Fort Worth ISD teaches, she said. However, she would push the superintendent and administration to focus on improving academics to stop enrollment losses.

District 5

The best way for Fort Worth ISD to turn the tide on enrollment is to become an A+ school district, said CJ Evans, the incumbent in District 5.

However, Evans acknowledged some factors are beyond the school board’s control, such as the birth rate in the district. The birth rate in Texas dropped faster than the nation’s, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“The biggest factor is that we’re not an A+ district. We’re going to get there and our enrollment is going to stop declining,” Evans said.

Evans disagreed with Ramsey’s prediction that Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment will plateau at 55,000 students. Evans expects the district’s reorganization will lead to a more efficient school system that can boost academic achievement and lure parents back.

Three people sit at a table with microphones in front of them. The woman on the right has a name plate in front of her that reads "Evans." The man in the middle has a nameplate in front of him that reads "Lynch."
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Incumbent CJ Evans, left, and challengers Kevin Lynch and Josh Yoder attended a Fort Worth Report elections forum on March 30, 2023, at Texas A&M University School of Law. They are vying for the District 5 seat on the school board.

Fort Worth ISD has not been in its best shape in the past four years, said Kevin Lynch, one of Evans’ challengers.

Declining enrollment, low student outcomes and growing budget deficits have created a bad situation for the largest school district in Tarrant County, he said.

Like Evans, Lynch wants the school board to focus on issues within its powers.

“We have to own our world and what we can control. Our job is to put the best product out there for the kids in Fort Worth,” Lynch said.

That means setting more rigorous goals, he said.

Candidate Josh Yoder wants Fort Worth ISD to ask parents why they left the district and what would bring them back. He expects the answers to point to one conclusion: improving education.

Yoder listed reasons for why parents left, including the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion effort as well as straying away from reading and math.

However, improvements will have their limitations and many parents may not return, he said.

“We’ve failed so far already that they probably never will,” Yoder said.

More companies and people will move into Fort Worth ISD if the district improves, Yoder said.

Fort Worth Report journalist Kristen Barton contributed to this story.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at or via Twitter.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University. Contact him at or via Twitter.