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Arlington ISD cuts 275 positions as COVID dollars expire. Employees raise questions

Arlington ISD Administration Building on East Abram Street, as photographed on Feb. 22, 2024.
Dang Le
Fort Worth Report
Arlington ISD Administration Building on East Abram Street, as photographed on Feb. 22, 2024.

Kristin Harman knew her position as an instructional coach at Arlington ISD’s Bailey Junior High School might get cut.

Harman’s job is funded by federal pandemic relief funds, which expire in September 2024. She started questioning the district about her future in December 2023, she said.

In February, she got her answer.

Harman’s job is one of 275 that will end with the loss of COVID dollars. The positions assist with classroom support, mental health resources, after-school care, tutoring and more, according to the district’s email. Contracts on all affected positions expire in May.

The district told Harman that surplus teachers — full-time teachers who may not have designated classes because of enrollment — would be guaranteed a job.

“For the past two and a half years, we have been led to believe through words, through conversations, through initiatives, through training, that they’re wanting to keep us,” Harman said.

The district declined to respond to the Arlington Report’s questions.

Since 2020, Arlington ISD has received $209.7 million through three rounds of pandemic relief funds. The district has spent $173 million and will have until Sept. 30 to spend the one-time money or return the funds.

Dang Le
Fort Worth Report

The district and the school board knew the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funding would be good for only three years, board President Melody Fowler told the Arlington Report.

“It's heartbreaking because every single one of those people has been so dedicated to our kids and AISD, and they have done such tremendous work,” Fowler said.

What does Arlington use COVID dollars for?

After-school/summer programming

  • Address learning loss
  • Classroom instruction
  • Mental health, social and emotional services
  • Technology to maintain district operations

Visit here for more information.

Arlington ISD plans to continue summer learning, ensure high-quality classroom instruction and provide students with academic opportunities, such as professional work certifications, dual-credit courses and extracurricular activities, the district said in a March 7 press release email.

“As we navigate this transition, our priority remains ensuring the continuity of education and the well-being of our students and staff. We are committed to maintaining essential services and educational standards," Superintendent Matt Smith said in the press release.

Aftermath of ESSER funds ending

Nikki Thompson, who has worked in the district for more than 20 years, applied to be an instructional coach on campus — an ESSER-funded position — two years ago.

“When I talked to everybody and agreed to (an ESSER-funded) position, I knew that there was a potential for that funding to go away,” Thompson said.

She is now a professional learning specialist, a position funded by the district. She likes her new position better — it’s more stable, and her salary didn’t change, she said.

Thompson wondered how schools, especially elementary campuses, will handle strategic meetings to support students since positions such as teaching assistants are being removed, she said.

While Thompson doesn’t have clear data, she thinks ESSER-funded jobs have improved teachers’ growth. The district will now have fewer people to prepare teaching materials since many positions were created for curriculum and instruction specialists, she said.

As an instructional coach, Harman supports each teacher on campus, working with them on best practice goals, she said.

One of her initiatives this year was to introduce small-group instruction at her campus. Five to six students with instructional needs identified based on data sat with a teacher every week to work on a topic they struggled with or for which they needed support. The initiative was for all core classes: science, math, history and English language arts.

Harman previously taught seventh-grade Texas history at the district for 14 years. She entered her new role in the 2021-22 academic year to focus on supporting other teachers.

“I would have a bigger impact on students versus just the 150 that I would have on my roster,” she said.

Harman is paid more as an instructional coach than as a teacher, she said.

Arlington ISD’s budget shortfalls

Arlington ISD was expecting to have a $42 million budget deficit for the upcoming 2024-25 school year. School districts did not receive any extra money from the Texas Legislature in 2023.

“We're going to look at the budget. We're going to see if there's any way that we can cut some corners and see what we can do to try and balance the budget better and what we can do to help these employees who have been so important to the district,” board president Fowler said.

Student learning remains the district’s highest priority despite funding challenges, Superintendent Smith said. That, however, will be a challenge without extra state funding.

“But we've tackled every challenge related to COVID-19, and this won't be an exception," he said.

The district has used the relief funding smartly to support the students, teachers and staff, Thompson said.

“I don't blame AISD in any way,” she said. “I wish that the state were able to continue with this funding.”

In a news release, the district said it plans to support affected staff members if they choose to explore opportunities for reemployment within the district.

Harman’s plans are still unclear, she said, but she hopes to apply for administration positions in the district.

“While I do have the experience and credentials to secure another position, I also have to start the interview process all over in order to stay in a district that I’ve spent my entire career in,” she said.

She has been with Arlington ISD for 17 years.

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at or @DangHLe. 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.

This article first appeared on Arlington Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.