Felice Stanley, a bus driver who has worked for Fort Worth ISD for more than 20 years, loves her job and the students she transports to and from school. This school year, though, has put her through the wringer.

Felice Stanley, a longtime Fort Worth ISD bus driver, speaks to the school board on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (Screen grab)

Recently, she has had to act as not only the bus driver but the sole person on the vehicle keeping 63 elementary and middle schoolers in line. Her bus can seat up to 72 children.

“I have no assistance or anything. Can you imagine that? And they’re (in) middle school — they’re busy. It took me a little while to get them under control,” Stanley told the Fort Worth ISD school board on Tuesday. “We need more manpower.”

Fort Worth ISD job vacancies

Across Fort Worth ISD, 1,054 jobs are vacant. Here’s a breakdown of some of those openings:

  • 291 classroom positions
  • 181 campus auxiliary jobs
  • 95 campus professional support spots
  • 87 maintenance jobs
  • 58 nutrition worker vacancies
  • 118 transportation worker openings

The district’s transportation department accounts for 118 out of 1,054 total job vacancies, according to officials. Another 291 teaching jobs are open, representing about 5% of all teacher positions in the district. To address the empty positions, Fort Worth ISD is revamping its entire hiring process to start earlier, be more data driven and offer sign-on bonuses.

“There is a nationwide need, with a lack of people going into the education field,” Chief Talent Officer Raúl Peña said. “This is just not a Fort Worth ISD issue — it’s a large urban school district issue. It is also impacting suburban school districts.”

At the start of the school year, Fort Worth ISD had 314 vacant teacher jobs — more than four times as many vacant positions it had last year. That number is similar to the 315 teachers Dallas ISD needed before school started. Districts across the state are facing shortages that the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated. 

‘We do not need to wait’

Peña recognized his plan will not be a silver bullet. However, he expects it to be a start for Fort Worth ISD to avoid these bigger staffing issues for the 2022-23 school year.

The current hiring process bogs down human resource employees who often are juggling their normal duties, as well as acting as recruiters, Peña said. That creates bottlenecks when hiring potential employees who decide to take another job offer. On top of that, the district has waited until late in a school year to begin looking for teachers to fill vacancies caused by promotions, educators moving and other staff attrition reasons.

New teacher demographics

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, trustee Jacinto Ramos questioned the diversity of Fort Worth ISD’s new teachers. 

Chief Talent Officer Raúl Peña said administrators have made strides in hiring a more diverse class of new teachers this year, but there was room for improvement. 

Peña provided the following statistics of this year’s new teachers:

  • 22% are Black
  • 24% are Latino
  • 45% are white

Fort Worth ISD is shifting its hiring process to start in the fall before the next school year. Peña plans to meet with department heads to determine what jobs the district will have and analyze historical employment trend data. For example, each year the district needs roughly nine elementary principals.

“Why wait to hire those folks?” Peña said. “We do not need to wait until May, June, July or August to find out what those needs are. We have enough historical data to provide that information.”

Trustees praised the shift. Board Secretary CJ Evans was happy to see administrators using employment data to be proactive in recruiting and securing employees for the next school year. 

Trustee Anne Darr agreed with Evans.

“It was clear that we didn’t need to continue to do things that way we had been doing them,” Darr said. “Not that everything was broken, but there was room for improvement.”

Fort Worth ISD also is beginning to focus on building a pipeline to grow its employees through its high school career and technical education programs. The district’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School program offers an education track that administrators hope to serve as a way to grow its own teachers.

Peña said the district plans to offer more support for those students after they graduate by partnering with Texas Tech University and Tarleton State University to get those students on the way to earning an education degree. He also noted that students in career and technical education classes could also be future auxiliary employees.

‘We’re looking at everybody’

As Fort Worth ISD recruits new employees, it will offer sign-on bonuses of varying amounts to potential new staffers. The district examined incentives other Fort Worth and Dallas area districts offered, Peña said.

2022-23 incentives

Fort Worth ISD plans to offer a wide range of incentives for people it hires for the 2022-23 school year. 

Fort Worth ISD graduates who become a full-time employee will get a $500 welcome home bonus. Employees who refer people for auxiliary jobs will receive $500, half paid if the employee works for 90 days and the other half once the employee works for a year.

Here’s a look at the other one-time bonuses:

Teachers

  • $5,000 for pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade bilingual teachers
  • $3,000 for special education and math, science and English teachers
  • $2,000 for a committing to work for the district before April 1

Auxiliary positions

  • $1,000 paid quarterly for one year

Substitute teachers
Substitute teachers and teaching assistants will earn a bonus based on the number of days they work for a six-week period. The payout will be each six weeks in the spring.

  • $750 for 25 or more days 
  • $550 for 20 to 23 days
  • $400 for 15 to 19 days

For the 2022-23 school year, the district will offer a one-time incentive for new teachers in its highest need areas, such as bilingual, special education and secondary educators. At the beginning of this school year, Fort Worth ISD had 59 bilingual teacher vacancies, 52 special education teacher spots and 66 openings for secondary educators in math, science and social studies, officials said.

The classroom bonuses include $5,000 for pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade bilingual teachers and $3,000 for special education teachers and secondary math, science and English teachers.

“This would be an additional bonus to their base salary,” Peña said. “In addition, if they make an early commitment prior to April 1 … they will get an additional $2,000 bonus.”

Outside of the classroom, Fort Worth ISD plans to offer incentives to new auxiliary employees, such as bus drivers and custodians. They would get $1,000 that would be paid quarterly for one year. Peña acknowledged this bonus will not affect current bus drivers and other auxiliary employees and plans to propose an incentive for them soon.

The district also wants to hire Fort Worth ISD graduates. It will offer what administrators are calling a welcome home bonus of $500 to graduates who become a full-time employee.

“Sometimes we hire personnel and we look far away for the best people when they’re right here within our community,” the chief talent officer said. “These employees will likely stay inside the ranks of Fort Worth ISD for many years.”

The district will offer a $500 incentive to current employees who refer an auxiliary job to another person and they are hired. Peña said 313 out of 614 of the district’s new workers this year were referred by a current district employee.

Trustee Michael Ryan, a former Fort Worth ISD administrator, appreciated the incentives and improvements to how people are hired. The entire school board expressed optimism for turning around its staffing shortages.

“Hopefully, with this work in progress, next year we won’t have the issues we’re currently having,” trustee Anael Luebanos said.

Darr also was supportive and was glad to see administrators focusing on all facets of the district.

“We’re not looking at just the classroom — we’re looking at everybody,” she said. “It takes everybody to make this work.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. 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.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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