SUGAR LAND, Texas (KTRK) -- Like several districts across the state, Fort Bend Independent School District is beginning the school year with fewer teachers and a lower budget than they need.
"It's definitely a struggle to fill all those jobs," Deputy Superintendent Steven Bassett said.
Despite Fort Bend County being a diverse, growing, attractive area for families, FBISD is having a hard time hiring teachers and staff.
"The special education teacher positions are really hard to fill these days. And so, we're really going have difficulty getting all of those filled," Bassett said.
The school year is starting with about 270 unfilled teacher and staff positions. To attract talent, the district is offering one-time recruitment and retention payments of up to $1,000 for jobs that provide safety, health, and security. Bassett said he wishes they could do more for teachers and students, but a $49 million budget deficit is holding them back.
"We have to figure out ways to cut, but at the same time, how to add compensation to the staff. So, that's what we're trying to grapple with now," Bassett said.
"That is something that is just incomprehensible, that we are talking about cuts after a pandemic. That we're talking about cuts at the same time we're talking about supporting our students more," Texas State Teacher's Association President Ovidia Molina said.
Molina said school districts need more funds and support from the government, but she believes politics are getting in the way.
"Something that would help besides higher salaries, (and) better benefits, would be to stop the attacks on our educators and be sure that we are supporting them as the professionals that they are," Molina said.
One solution in Fort Bend could wind up on the ballot. A tax rate hike to support public education is under consideration as a rising number of families consider other options like private, charter, and home schools. Bassett said that amplifies the challenge to stay competitive because lower enrollment means less funding from the state.
"If you do have to make cuts, then what ends up happening is that the service levels that are provided to the campuses can suffer. Okay. But that's not, you know, we're hoping that that's not something that necessarily the kids see or even notice," Bassett said.
As the district focuses on a lack of funding, teachers want to talk about a lack of respect.
"We are sort of told what to do, instead of asked what would best work for our students," Molina said. "We are always seen as scapegoats that did not do enough when we are putting our heart and soul into everything we do for the students."
Considering these challenges, leaders at the district level, down to the teachers in the classroom, still say the students, their education, and their well-being won't be compromised.