Trustee Wallace Bridges knows difficult conversations are ahead for Fort Worth ISD as administrators determine which schools need to close.
Enrollment declines have been too steep, and now the district is taking action, he said.
The school board took its first step toward closing schools on Sept. 26. Without discussion, trustees unanimously agreed to start studying how shrinking enrollment has affected the district’s 122 campuses.
“It’s going to affect all of our communities,” Bridges told the Fort Worth Report. “It’s important that we start doing that now, coming to the table and addressing what those challenges are and how we are going to deal with that.”
Enrollment estimates show the district has 70,675 students. If that number holds, Fort Worth ISD will have lost 16,753 students since 2016, when enrollment hit a record 87,428 students.
Put another way: Fort Worth ISD has lost roughly one in five students since 2016.
Fort Worth ISD campuses can hold up to 92,626 students.
The enrollment losses have put the district in a financial squeeze. This year’s budget has a $45 million deficit.
Since 2019, Fort Worth ISD has lost $123 million in state revenue. Enrollment serves as the foundation for many financial decisions a school district makes. Texas provides funding based on the number of students who attend classes.
Closing schools could mean an improved financial situation because the district would no longer need to operate too many schools for too few students.
But schools are personal to people, Bridges said. Many families have attended the same school for decades.
“People are concerned because nobody wants schools in their area to be closed. That’s where there is a little anxiety,” Bridges said.
Lower birth rates, fewer immigrants, demographic shifts, an aging American population and increased competition from charter schools have likely fueled decreases across the nation, a school finance expert from Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab previously told the Fort Worth Report.
Fort Worth resident Gabe Poirot told trustees the district’s shrinking student body is because some parents want their children in schools that align with their values.
“Could it be that they’re so concerned that their kids aren’t receiving basic education anymore?” Poirot said.
Other school board members have said the district has to focus on academic excellence to set itself apart from charter schools and other school districts.
Bridges knows that the days of people enrolling in Fort Worth ISD unprompted are over. The district needs new strategies to attract people — and that means acknowledging that increased competition over students is here to stay, he said.
“All of us have got to up our game,” Bridges said.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.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.