Christie Whitbeck

Christie Whitbeck

Fort Bend ISD will offer $1,000 retention payments to current and new employees in a select few areas in an effort to reduce turnover.

The district’s board of trustees last week approved spending $2.1 million on $1,000 payments to current full-time and new police officers, special education teachers and aids, registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, bus drivers and monitors, according to the district.

“With a budget deficit of $50 million, the decision to pay the supplemental incentives was a challenging one as we continue to work hard to reduce the shortfall and increase revenues,” Superintendent Christie Whitbeck said. “But I felt strongly about doing this because the safety, health and wellbeing of our students is always our most important objective.”

Trustees approved the expenditure at a special meeting called about a week after they approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year with a shortfall of about $49 million, according to budget documents.

To help pass that budget, the district devoted about $27 million in federal funding and some of its reserve funds to help alleviate the shortfall, according to the district.

The $2.1 million retention funding will also come via federal funding, according to the district.

Despite the district’s financial woes, some parents and families were upset that the retention payments weren’t going to all the district’s employees, especially teachers.

“I wholeheartedly agree that the employees who got a bonus needed it, however, if you can’t give something to all then don’t give it to none,” one resident wrote on a social media page dedicated to discussing the district. “I would have much rather they wait to announce something in which everyone got something.”

Another resident wrote he had grave concerns about the district falling behind by not paying teachers competitively.

The decision to give some employees retention bonuses comes just weeks after district employees held a protest outside the district’s administration building, seeking better salaries, safety precautions and smaller class sizes, among. Other. Issues.

“I taught for 31 years and, last year, my salary was only about $16,000 higher than a first-year teacher,” said Terri Verdone, a teacher who opted for retirement from FBISD, at the protest.

District administrators have argued they have increased teachers’ pay, such as during the pandemic, but that they’re currently constrained by the budget shortfall.

Essentially, before the pandemic, the district spent about $40 million on new programming and had been instituting teacher salary increases to keep pace with a growing market, but a quickly-growing student population helped make that possible, according to Steve Bassett, deputy superintendent for the district.

The coronavirus pandemic changed all that.

The student enrollment the most recent school year was about 2,100 fewer children than expected, Bassett said. District demographers estimated the enrollment would be about 79,700, but the year started with about 77,500 enrolled students, Bassett said.

That number increased to about 78,650 by the end of the school year – higher than the pre-pandemic enrollment – but not enough to reach where demographers expected, Bassett said.

Because of the way school finances work in Texas, districts have essentially two options to increase their revenues, Bassett said. Those are, either increase student enrollment, or ask voters for a tax rate increase, he said.

The board of trustees last week approved an almost $768 million budget, according to documents.

District administrators are working on ways to reduce the budget long-term, including by not filling some open positions and looking at programs, Bassett said.

It’s not yet clear whether or not the board of trustees could call for a tax rate increase referendum, Bassett said.

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