Despite the fact the Stafford MSD Board of Trustees voted in May to shrink the district’s staff amid talk of budget concerns, Superintendent Robert Bostic says the district is in a better fiscal position now and hasn’t actually reduced the number of full-time staff.
The district did, however, eliminate some administrative positions, Bostic said.
District leaders in May had been concerned because they received projections that the student enrollment might decline by more than 300 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and moved to reduce staff in order to fix a possible future budget crunch, Bostic explained last week.
Even at the time, the district had a healthy fund balance of about $14 million, but wanted to make a long-term fix, Bostic said.
“If you’re pulling money out of a savings account, it isn’t regenerated,” Bostic said. “Normally you might use that for one-time costs, such as a capital outlay. But if you’re trying to pay salaries, that’s every year.”
But now, those worst fears don’t seem likely to come to pass, and the district has received some outstanding federal money that should cover the difference and state law should force students back into classrooms for the upcoming school year, Bostic said.
Essentially, school districts’ funding in Texas is, in most years, determined by its average daily attendance, which is a calculation for the attendance of an average school day and separate from the total number of students enrolled in a school district, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
Because the coronavirus pandemic forced school districts to teach students from home, the TEA opted to provide funding at the same level as before the pandemic for the entire school year, even if they saw enrollment declines, said Jake Kobersky, a spokesperson for the agency.
That agreement wouldn’t have been in place for the upcoming school year, however, and the Texas Legislature for a time mulled a piece of legislation that would have provided for some virtual attendance – a move that could have hurt the district’s funding if all 300 students opted to stay home, Bostic said.
The district had also invested $2.3 million to provide iPads to each of its students, and applied for federal money to recoup some of that cost, but hadn’t heard back in May, Bostic said.
It was in light of those concerns that trustees on May 17 voted 4-2 to terminate the employment of Early Childhood Center assistant principal Ciji Lange and Chief Innovations Officer Marva Rasberry.
But after that meeting, the district received more than $775,000 as part of a prior purchase reimbursement program, Kobersky said.
And the legislature ultimately didn’t pass the bill that would have allowed for virtual learning to continue.
Both Rasberry and Lange were ultimately offered other positions with Stafford MSD, Bostic said. Rasberry opted to retire, and Lange moved over to a new position at Stafford Elementary School, Bostic said.
The Fort Bend Star after the meeting in May filed an open records request with the district seeking information about what positions were terminated, and learned a third, unmentioned person was the only one.
Jakayla Brantley’s contract was terminated, according to Gracie Martinez, spokesperson for the district. She was earning about $55,000 per year.
Those administrative positions that Rasberry and Lange held have been eliminated, but the actual number of full-time positions in the district has increased, Bostic said.
“Most of the new positions are grant-funded, given to us by the federal government to provide additional tutoring and mental health counselors,” Bostic said.
The district plans to hold several drives before the next school year to get students back in classrooms, and the opening of a new STEM school should help pad enrollment, Bostic said.
“Conservatively, the budget should be about the same as it was last year,” Bostic said. “Now, we’ve just got to get kids here.”