FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas - On Monday, FOX 26 mentioned the state’s $33 billion budget surplus, but how much of that will go to school funding?
Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Dr. Christie Whitbeck says as we all know inflation is impacting all of us, and that’s true even for fueling buses and paying utilities at schools. So she's planning to go before lawmakers and ask for everything her district needs, particularly pay raises for teachers.
"We’re all very concerned about the nationwide teacher shortage, and so we’re hoping our legislators will see this as a priority," Dr. Whitbeck says.
In Fort Bend ISD, where the starting teacher salary is $59,500, the district is 175 teachers short.
"We’ve always been one of the higher paying districts, especially across the state, but we want to see that definitely going over $60,000 and into the low $60,000’s," Dr. Whitbeck explains.
"I think they deserve it. They watch our kids all day. They teach them all day. So I think that would be good," adds Fort Bend ISD Parent Melanie Callihan.
Even as Fort Bend ISD is hoping for salary hikes, the district is also planning to cut its budget by $47 million.
"It will affect probably some positions, but there will be no one who’s without a job," says Whitbeck.
"With the school shootings, and so many things going on that's my biggest concern is just safety and knowing that my kid’s ok when he goes to school every day," says Fort Bend ISD Mom Jen Munoz.
Dr. Whitbeck says Fort Bend ISD just applied for a grant for police body shields. In addition to equipment, the district is looking at new safety technology.
"One app I want to bring on is the app that tells the parents where the bus is," Dr. Whitbeck explains. "We can have apps that get even more sophisticated to know where the child is. Are they on a bus? Are they in a hall?"
More importantly, she says, is the pay for district police officers.
"We need to be competitive in our salaries, competitive with the other entities, the cities, the sheriff’s department," says Dr. Whitbeck.
The current state allotment per student is $6,100 and Dr. Whitbeck would like that number to increase.
"I’d want to see it getting close to at least $7,000," she says.
The Fort Bend ISD Superintendent is scheduled to speak twice to state lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session.
Some in the community hope hearing from one another is also on the district’s agenda.
"The teachers, the administration, the children, and the parents, and we need to listen with intentionality," says Michelle Hall who pastors a church in the area.
Having open lines of communication is apparently already in the works. Dr. Whitbeck says she's making it a priority to find out from teachers what they need, other than more money.
"It’s also about the atmosphere in which they work and do they have a principal that’s listening, do they have a superintendent that’s listening," she says.
Dr. Whitbeck plans to talk with lawmakers about keeping the Academic Accountability System, which is up for renewal, the same for at least another year since some students suffered learning loss in the pandemic.
She's also going to make it known she believes schools should be funded based on enrollment and not on attendance because districts still have to staff the same way even if kids are out sick, away at a funeral or if they take a long weekend for a family vacation.