Faced with Reduced Funding, NISD Implements Cost-Saving Measures
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Faced with Reduced Funding, NISD Implements Cost-Saving Measures Across District
Posted on 03/11/2021
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Cost-saving measures have been identified across Northwest ISD, as the district attempts to cut $17.5 million from a budget that is already declining due to revenue shortfalls from the state and rising costs associated with student growth. 


“Our funding just doesn’t add up,” said Superintendent Ryder Warren. “We are growing at such a fast pace that we are struggling to keep up with costs. And, unfortunately, that puts us in a position where we have to make cuts.”


Each year, preparing the budget for a school district as large as Northwest ISD is no small task. The 2020-2021 budget — adopted by the school board in August 2020 — is 196 pages long. 


The budgeting process usually starts in February, when the Board of Trustees approves budget parameters. That’s followed by a series of workshops, meetings and discussions that ultimately form a budget that goes before trustees for approval in late June. 


This year, however, the district started working on the budget in November, due to an unsuccessful VATRE, which asked voters to consider returning the maintenance and operations tax rate to the same amount ($1.04) it was from 2011 to 2018. This would allow the district to continue funding programs, staffing ratios, and other school operations at the same level the district and community had been accustomed to for years.  


“We knew these decisions would be difficult,” said Warren. “So we took a deep dive into all areas of our budget to try to find where it would hurt the least.”


Northwest ISD expects to budget $240 million in revenue for the 2021-2022 school year to serve more than 26,000 students. NISD also expects to budget a $5.7 million expense as a result of Chapter 49 recapture laws (Robin Hood). 


Under the new funding structure, the state compressed NISD’s M&O tax rate from $1.04 (where it was set in 2011 and remained until House Bill 3) to $0.97 in 2019-2020 and then further down to $0.9163 for the 2020-2021 school year.. 


Now, NISD must find ways to reduce expenditures to match the amount of revenue from the compressed M&O tax rate. 


“We decided early on, and the school board agreed, that we wanted to focus on finding ways to reduce costs without staff layoffs,” said Warren. “We started with campus and department budgets and went from there.”


Cost-saving Initiatives Implemented 


District and campus leaders identified non-personnel areas where they could operate more efficiently and are reducing their budgets by 10 percent.


Employee Health Insurance & NISD Health and Wellness Center

Another item in the district’s budget is employee health insurance. To eliminate this cost, the Board of Trustees voted at its March 8 board meeting to move from a self-funded health insurance plan to TRS ActiveCare. Currently, the employee health plan is self-funded, paid for through employee medical premiums, district contributions and other reimbursement revenue. Since the 2011-2012 plan year, medical expenses have exceeded revenue all but one year, in 2016-2017. In addition, the board voted to eliminate the NISD Health and Wellness Center, which will save the district approximately $1 million per year. 


Staff Reassignments and Reductions


Reduction of Central Office Administration

Several district and campus positions have been absorbed through attrition in the last year, including the deputy superintendent, the chief technology officer and other positions (including electricians, teachers, instructional coaches, etc.) as staff members resigned.  


Elementary School Art, Music, GATES

Elementary campuses with 750-800 students will shift from two art teachers, two music teachers and two GATES teachers to one teacher in each position, respectively. Educational aides at campuses with more than 750 students will become fine arts assistants to help with music and art classes. 


Middle School Fine Arts

Middle school campuses will be limited to one director and one assistant director per program in band, orchestra, choir and theater. Health aides will be reassigned as well. 


Staffing Ratios

The district also updated elementary student-to-teacher staffing ratios in first and second grade to 24:1, which would be an increased cap of two additional students. The staffing ratios for other grade levels will remain the same — 20:1 in prekindergarten classes, 22:1 in kindergarten classes, 24:1 in third and fourth grade classes, and 25:1 in fifth grade classes. By increasing the staffing ratios, it gives the district an opportunity to be more efficient, but it doesn't mean that all classes will have those exact ratios. Based on student enrollment projections, only 5% of classrooms in first and second grade would exceed the previous cap of 22 students. 


Secondary core class sizes will average 25 to 30 students per class. 


Athletics

In athletics, one coaching position per middle school and two coaching positions per high school will be absorbed through attrition.


Program Changes


District officials analyzed master schedules to identify courses or programs with consistently low student enrollment to determine if courses should be eliminated or offered in a different format. 


Foreign Languages

As a result, NISD high schools will no longer offer French and German language courses. Students currently enrolled in French I or German I will be able to complete their second year in that foreign language during the 21-22 school year.


AVID

The district will keep the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) program in the Northwest High School feeder pattern next year (Northwest High School, Chisholm Trail Middle School and Pike Middle School). The program was previously offered at all secondary campuses, and students who wish to remain in the program may transfer to NHS or CTMS from other campuses. 


AVID teachers will utilize their AVID training to continue to foster the strong relationships they have formed with students. The district has also committed to embedding AVID-type strategies into the curriculum across all NISD schools and content areas to continue to meet the needs of students. 


PALS

The PALS program will no longer be offered as well, however students will have access to a similar course through the district’s CTE program. 


“I am proud of our district and campus leaders who have worked hard to make these difficult decisions,” Warren said. “The NISD community has continued to support our schools in immense ways this school year. We will get through this together and I look forward to coming out on the other side with renewed excitement for the wonderful programs and opportunities available to our students.”


FAQ


Why is Northwest ISD’s local revenue decreasing while there is so much growth in the area?

House Bill 3 put a 2.5 percent cap on the amount of local revenue Texas school districts could keep from growth. Additional revenue received above this cap must be sent back to the state, according to Chapter 49 recapture laws (Robin Hood). 


Northwest ISD saw more than 10 percent growth annually before House Bill 3 went into effect.


Why do some campuses keep AVID but not others?

Offering AVID through the Northwest Feeder pattern reduces costs associated with the program and helps create efficiency as students advance through the program within one feeder pattern. 


Will every first, second, third and fourth grade class have 22 students?

No. We expect that only 5 percent of classes across the entire district will reach the 22 student maximum according to our student enrollment projections. The new student-to-teacher ratios are designed to help the district plan for hiring and budgeting. 


How many students will there be in my child’s high school class?

We will target to have an average of 25-30 students per core class at the secondary level. 


What will happen to the teachers whose classes were eliminated by program reductions? 

Teachers will be reassigned, based on their certifications, to other classrooms identified as areas of need within the district.


How many art and music teachers do other districts have at elementary campuses?

We actually did not find any districts locally that had a second art or a second music teacher at larger elementary campuses.


Are the budget cuts happening because the last bond didn’t pass?

It’s a common misconception that the bonds not passing have led to cuts and program changes, but that’s not true. There were two elections in November: The Bond Election with Props A - D, and the Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election (VATRE) on Prop E. The bond election dealt only with funds on the I&S side, or the debt side, of the district’s tax rate while the VATRE dealt only with funds on the M&O side, the operations side. 


When the bond propositions didn’t pass, it meant a delay in opening new schools, renovating campuses, replacing technology and infrastructure, and all other construction projects. 


When the VATRE didn’t pass, it meant the district was faced with reducing the operational budget - the budget that funds district programs - by approximately $20 million. House Bill 3 compressed the M&O tax rate prior to the November election and the VATRE was the district’s way of asking for voter approval to return to the original tax rate and, therefore, prevent the $20 million budget cut. When the VATRE did not pass, the district was forced to reduce its expenditures to match the lower level of revenue from the compressed M&O tax rate.