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As the sixth largest school system in Texas, Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) is responsible for the education of 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.

Like many other school districts, FWISD faces a triple squeeze: unsustainable cost structures, declining revenue, and higher academic expectations for a student population that has greater needs. Declining revenue is driven by declining enrollment -3 percent from 2016 to 2019.

FWISD Superintendent Kent Scribner and his leadership cabinet wanted to proactively address the coming budget gap by undertaking a comprehensive study of 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). The study would provide an opportunity to align the district's resources to their core strategy for student success. Additionally, the study would provide the analysis needed for FWISD's annual efficiency audit, which is now required by the state of Texas. Texas expects all school systems to do XYZ, with the aim of ABC.

Findings from the Texas Efficiency Audit

In XYZ date, FWISD and ERS kicked off their partnership. Over XYZ months, the ERS team completed a holistic efficiency audit, in which we analyzed: 

  1. The district budget
  2. School-level funding and strategic school design (which refers to how principals organize their people, time, and money - not to the design of the school building!)
  3. Scheduling practices at secondary schools
  4. Duplicated services (i.e. studying 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:

INSERT BOARD PRESENTATION HERE

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, data analysts, travel for professional development conferences, and around teacher teaming. This represents an $11 million opportunity.
  2. Schools and programs of choice: Optimize spending on FWISD’ 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 better helping schools to plan strategically, to ensure on time graduation and deeper learning. Together with the schools/ programs of choice option above, this represents a $25 million opportunity.
  4. Community partnerships: Maximize and make these sustainable- for example, considering dual enrollment opportunities and supporting the 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 all of these analyses ERS relied on a variety of information, including quantitative data provided by the district (budget, HR, course schedule, and student demographic and performance data), and qualitative data (stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and surveys. We contextualized our findings by comparing them to a benchmark set of districts, including national peers of similar size and student population, as well as other Texas districts.

“ERS is very knowledgeable, professional, attentive, provides fast turnaround, works well with our staff, and communicates clearly. With ERS, it is a true partnership.”

- FWISD leader, as shared on post-project survey, administered by a 3rd party

Next Steps

FWISD is just beginning to consider the implications of these recommendations. To start, the district is creating a team to set the strategy and phases of implementation, including how to garner the support needed to to achieve identified opportunities. FWISD leaders report that the ERS recommendations are a powerful guide for future action. As one leader said: “ERS's 6 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 need more time for leaders to develop an implementation strategy. Some of the most important work involves changing belief systems. As one district leader explained it: “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. ERS is extremely professional…. [they] helped us define the key steps needed to achieve transformation.”

- FWISD leader, as shared on post-project survey, administered by a 3rd party

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

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