With Wortham Intermediate School and Wilkinson Middle School opening for the 2023-24 school year, Frisco ISD officials said they knew having the right teachers was vital to continued success in navigating the district’s expansion.

In the past five years, FISD’s student population has increased by nearly 12% when comparing 2018 to 2023, according to district data.

When FISD’s board approved its more than $943 million budget June 20, it included $1.3 million specifically for new teaching positions as the district continues to grow.

Setting aside money for new teachers is the “next big thing” behind raises in the district’s budget, Chief Finance Officer Kimberly Smith said.

Budget discussions also centered around retention, one of the board’s top priorities going into the new school year, as additional raises and benefits were approved alongside the funds for the new teachers.

“Those are all things that would hopefully attract people to Frisco ISD and also hopefully retain them once they’re here,” Smith said.

A growing district

FISD is still considered a high-growth district despite the intensity of its expansion having slowed in recent years, Smith said.

“In some ways, growth makes building a budget easy because you know where your money has to go,” Smith said. “In other ways, it makes it very difficult because projecting growth is very hard.”

One marker of the district’s ongoing growth can be seen at its job fairs—FISD has held four hiring events over the past year instead of its usual two, Human Resources Executive Director Pamela Linton said.

“We always recruit,” Linton said. “But knowing that we’re in the midst of this [national] teacher shortage, knowing all the competition that’s coming from the private sector, knowing the opportunities that are out there for staff members, we just knew we needed to start early.”

FISD recruitment has also taken place at college fairs, during outside hiring events, through invitations for candidates to see the district and more, Linton said.

“We looked for places that had not been previously tapped in this area so that we can ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that our principals and supervisors and hiring managers have an adequate applicant pool,” Linton said.

As the number of FISD teachers grows so have their starting salaries. The starting salary for the 2018-19 school year was $53,000. It has grown to $59,000 for the 2023-24 school year, according to district data.

Nearby districts, such as Plano ISD, offer a similar starting salary at $60,000, according to PISD’s website.

“Keeping competitive compensation is the least we can do,” Smith said.

Like other districts, FISD’s starting salary represents what an applicant with a bachelor’s degree and no teaching experience would make in a year. Teachers coming to FISD with more experience would be paid more, according to the district website.

Prioritizing retention

Texas Education Agency data shows 2021-22 was the worst year for teacher attrition statewide with 13.4% of Texas teachers leaving the profession altogether between fall 2021 and fall 2022, according to an April 20 TEA press release. Data for the 2022-23 school year has not yet been released.

As a way to encourage teachers to stay in the district, FISD’s budget included multiple incentives for its returning teachers including two additional paid days off, a retention incentive of 1% with an extra $50 for every year and a $1,200 raise.

While the budget was approved, Board Member Stephanie Elad voted against it 6-1. One of the reasons for her vote was the $1,200 raise wasn’t enough, she said at the June 20 meeting.

“I’m troubled that for many of our staff, the ... increase, which I am very appreciative of, don’t get me wrong, but that it will not be felt in a meaningful way,” Elad said during the meeting.

The raise was the highest it could have been without completely breaking the budget, Smith said.

“Every 1% raise in Frisco ISD costs $5 million,” Smith said. “The difference between $1,200 and $1,500 would have been a number in the millions that [FISD] didn’t feel like [it] could sustain.”

Determining raises has always been one of the more challenging parts of working out a budget, Smith said. That challenge was worsened by a lack of expected funds from the Texas Legislature, she said.

Lawmakers had left $17 billion in potential property tax relief and school funding on the table when the FISD board approved its budget, according to district officials.

“How can we, at least, give a cost-of-living increase to our staff without putting ourselves in a position where we are potentially jeopardizing our future sustainability?” Smith said. “The amount of money that we were able to come up with was $1,200.”

The district is also employing nonmonetary incentives to both draw in new teachers and keep the existing ones in FISD. For example, a new benefit added to the 2023-24 school year for the first time was the option to enroll in pet insurance.

“Being on a fixed income and only being able to offer so much in terms of salary to the number of employees that we have, [benefits are] a great way for us to be able to provide extra compensation to classroom teachers, hopefully incentivizing them to stay in the classroom,” Smith said.

Other district benefits, such as an employee clinic, a teacher mentorship program and a $250 stipend for additional classroom supplies, are additional ways FISD hopes to draw in and keep its teachers, Smith said.

“The benefits that we offer are just as important as the salary because our salaries are competitive,” Smith said.

Looking ahead

District officials and staff use ongoing conversations and district surveys to look for additional ways to help people want to stay, Linton said.

“The [focus on] retention is like knowing that you have people that have your back and that anybody’s here to help support you,” said Kelly Fitzhugh, a Corbell Elementary School second grade teacher.

Fitzhugh, who has been in FISD for nine years, was also a member of a focus group assembled to discuss and pitch new ways the district could improve retention and take some things off of teachers’ plates.

“There are people who are truly invested in what they can do to help keep teachers and help teachers who want to come to Frisco,” Fitzhugh said. “They’re meeting to find out from people who love it here what’s making them stay.”

Since the Legislature ended its 2023 session with some potential money for schools still on the table, district officials could go back and amend the budget once a decision is made in October, Smith said.

“If we can amend our budget and change our compensation plan at that time, we most definitely will,” Smith said.