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ERS Stories: Partnering with Texas' Fort Worth ISD on an “Efficiency Audit” in the Midst of Revenue Decline

Like school districts around the country, Texas' Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) needs to make the most out of every dollar, minute, and ounce of talent to ensure every student is prepared for tomorrow. As the sixth largest school system in Texas, FWISD serves about 84,000 students with a wide range of backgrounds: 76% of students are economically disadvantaged, 8% receive special education services, and 28% are English language learners.

But the district faces a triple squeeze: unsustainable cost structures, declining revenue, and higher academic expectations for a student population that has greater needs. One key factor in the squeeze is that enrollment declined by 3 percent from 2016 to 2019. 

FWISD Superintendent Kent Scribner and CFO Elsie Schiro wanted to proactively address the coming budget gap by studying resource efficiency, which FWISD and ERS defined together as delivering the highest quality education to all students while optimizing the use of scarce resources (people, time, and money). ERS worked with FWISD to conduct an "efficiency audit," which would provide an opportunity to align the district's resources to their core strategy for student success.

In June 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed school funding bill HB 3, which requires districts to perform an efficiency audit before seeking voter approval to raise taxes for "maintenance and operations" spending. While the bulk of this work preceded the bill’s passage, FWISD and this project can serve as model for what an efficiency audit can accomplish.

Findings from the Efficiency Audit

FWISD and ERS kicked off their partnership in September 2018. Over eight months, the ERS team worked with leadership, interviewed district and community stakeholders, conducted focus groups, and analyzed a range of data including:

  • The district budget
  • School-level funding and strategic school design
  • Scheduling practices at secondary schools
  • Duplicated services (i.e. areas where contracts and software spending may be duplicated or inefficiently used across departments)

We shared the following final presentation of findings to the FWISD board:

Six Opportunities to Reallocate Resources for Greater Efficiency

ERS identified six key opportunities for FWISD to reduce spending or reallocate resources to improve the student experience:

  1. Academic strategy: Align and better integrate current investments, including in curriculum development, school-based data analysts, travel for professional development conferences, and teacher teaming. This represents an $11 million opportunity.
  2. Schools and programs of choice: Optimize spending on FWISD’s portfolio by re-evaluating small schools of choice as well as the breadth of classes offered at comprehensive schools.
  3. Secondary school schedules: Maximize the value of these schedules by helping schools plan strategically and ensure on-time graduation and deeper learning. Together with the schools and programs of choice option above, this represents a $25 million opportunity.
  4. Community partnerships: Maximize and ensure sustainability of community partnerships—for example, consider dual enrollment opportunities with local colleges and supporting FWISD's Leadership Academies. This represents a $12 million opportunity.
  5. Centrally-based resources provided to schools: Streamline counseling and parent engagement initiatives and re-evaluate certain contracts and software that may not meet schools’ needs. This represents an $18 million dollar opportunity.
  6. Central administration: Continue to identify opportunities to reduce true central office overhead expenses. This represent a $6 million opportunity.

For these analyses ERS relied on a variety of information, including data on budget, HR, course schedule, and student demographics and performance; stakeholder interviews; focus groups; and surveys. We also compared FWISD's data to a benchmark set of districts, including national peers of similar size and student population, as well as other Texas districts.

Next Steps After the Efficiency Audit

FWISD is just beginning to consider the implications of these recommendations. To start, the district is creating a team to develop an implementation strategy and garner the support needed to achieve identified opportunities. FWISD leaders report that the ERS recommendations are a powerful guide for future action. As one leader said: “ERS's six recommendations are featured prominently in the superintendent's office.”

District leaders report that some of the staffing strategies will be implemented in the 2019-2020 school year. Other recommendations, such as those around curriculum and personnel usage, will require more time for leaders to develop an implementation strategy. Some of the most important work involves changing belief systems. One district leader explained, “We must make sure that everyone is on the same page.”

“We now have the data to inform our decisions. ERS’ recommendations give us clear focus on what to change and why. [They] helped us define the key steps needed to achieve transformation.”
       - FWISD leader, as shared on a third-party post-project survey

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a school system that is tackling a looming budget squeeze and was willing and able to take a systemwide, big picture view of strategic resource use.

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