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North Texas school districts struggle to shore up looming deficits

aerial view of a dozen or so people sitting in a horse shoe during a meeting
Screen shot
Argyle ISD
Argyle ISD Superintendent Courtney Carpenter (upper left, in white) tells her board members the district's facing a $4.6 million deficit that may not improve for more than a year, even two. She blames, in part, lawmakers who failed to increase state education funding that hasn't risen since 2019.

Whether Texas school districts are large, medium or small, they’re now dealing with the same deficit dilemma — fewer dollars for upcoming budgets.

Several school districts this week discussed potential options for staving off looming multi-million dollar budget shortfalls.

Argyle ISD’s superintendent Courtney Carpenter outlined the problem to her board members at a budget session Monday.

“We have to build this upcoming budget, and essentially the following year's budget, with no additional revenue in public school funding,” she said, “because the legislature, the 89th Texas Legislative session, will not begin until January 14th of next year and will not end until June 2nd.

Texas legislatures meet every other year.

There’s been no new state funding since 2019, and lawmakers failed to add new education dollars in last year’s 88th regular session nor in the subsequent four special sessions, despite the state’s historic $33 billion surplus.

“So this time next year,” continued superintendent Carpenter, “we're in the process of the 2025-2026 budget, still with no answers to the legislative relief.”

Carpenter said Argyle, with a little more than 4,300 students, faces a $4.6 million deficit.

Carroll ISD, with about 9,000 students, is looking at an $11 million deficit. Carroll school board president Cameron Bryan said because Carroll didn’t receive additional state funding in the last session, it needs other funding options.

“We're at an extreme financial constraint. We can't give our teachers raises and we can't provide the basic services in our classrooms,” Bryan said. “And so we have to do something."

The “something” Carroll ISD is considering is putting more students in front of each teacher — essentially increasing the student-teacher ratio.

The district had previously sold some school buildings to raise money.

At Richardson ISD, with nearly 38,000 students, the district might instead close five schools to save money. RISD Superintendent Tabitha Branum told her board and parents that otherwise, the district faces a $28.5 million deficit.

"This is not a result of poor stewardship by past administrations or previous boards,” Branum said in a recent board meeting. “This is really a result of increased requirements, increased inflation and no new additional dollars coming into the system.”

Richardson just held a series of community meetings for public reaction to the school closure plan. Trustees are scheduled to vote on the plan this month.

Coppell ISD said during this week’s budget planning meeting that it too faces a deficit. So officials are considering a Voter Approved Tax Ratification Election, or VATRE, that voters will consider this spring. If approved, it would bring in $2.3 million.

Allen ISD this week said after reduced or flat enrollment and 3,000 empty seats, its deficit could soar to $12 million next year. So it’s considering at least $8 million in total cuts throughout its budget.

Larger districts, like Fort Worth ISD, with bigger budgets, must make larger cuts. Fort Worth has already announced the elimination of some positions.

School districts will vote on budgets later this year.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.