Interim Superintendent John Allison gave a state of the district presentation at the Greater Keller Chamber luncheon July 26. In it, he spoke about several successes that Keller ISD had the past year. He also talked about a few challenges that the district, along with other Texas school districts, will have this year and beyond.

The successes

As Allison looked back on the 2022-23 school year, he highlighted new buildings that were opened and the number of students that were educated. Specifically, he mentioned five buildings that were opened or had significant work completed during this past school year:
  • Rebuilt Whitley Road Elementary School, Phase 1: According to Keller ISD documents, Whitley Road Elementary School was originally built in 1985. The 2019 bond project called for the complete replacement of the campus on the existing campus site in multiple phases.
  • Rebuilt Parkview Elementary School, Phase 1: According to Keller ISD documents, Whitley Road Elementary School was originally built in 1980. The 2019 bond project called for the complete replacement of the campus on the existing campus site in multiple phases.
  • Agriscience Learning Center: According to Keller ISD documents, this project, along with the new industrial trades Keller Center for Advanced Learning building, will extend and provide additional career and technical education learning spaces in which to train and prepare students for careers in various trade industries. The additional space will include a laboratory, shop and research space for the agriscience programs.
  • Two indoor extracurricular facilities: According to Keller ISD documents, indoor extracurricular practice buildings are being constructed at each of Keller ISD's four comprehensive high schools. The spaces each include a 100-yard turf field and are able to support all outdoor extracurricular program practice needs. So far, the facilities at Central High School and Fossil Ridge High School have been completed. The other two at Keller High School and Timber Creek High School are still under construction.
Two other successes that Allison touted during his presentation had to do with students themselves. Keller ISD welcomed approximately 34,000 students last school year and had approximately 2,700 graduates.

The challenges

Perhaps two of the biggest challenges that Allison spoke about were teacher shortages and budget issues, two issues that face not only Keller ISD but many school districts across the state.

“Ever heard about teacher turnover?” Allison asked the audience. “It is an issue. There's no question about it. The schools of education right now are about 50% of what they were just 10 years ago. So that pipeline is shrinking for schools at a time with, coming out of COVID, the incredible need to have the best talent in the classrooms is becoming even more difficult.”

Allison added that Keller is fortunate in that the human resources departments and the district’s employees help recruit.

“[Our employees] in general are fantastic ambassadors for the school district,” Allison said. “It's a good place to work and live, and we're able to maintain our staff.”

Allison said that the district has had about 8% turnover, which has been fairly consistent for the last seven to eight years.

“Coming out of COVID, we had a lot of turnover, and a lot of those were retirements,” Allison said. “We continue as a profession to battle the need for young teachers in the business. And that turnover tends to be higher when they've just been with us three to five years. So that's always something we're working on.”

Allison also made the comment that Keller ISD is well below state regional average in terms of turnover. Still, he mentioned that as of July 26 there were 33 teaching positions still vacant.

The second challenge Allison highlighted was school funding. To get to a balanced budget this fiscal year, Allison said that a $17 million in cuts were needed, which minimized the district’s ability to be able to provide pay raises for staff and for teachers.

“Nobody likes to pay taxes,” Allison said. “But it is critical for funding for our schools.”

Allison also spoke about how the 88th Texas Legislature affected school funding.

“This year was exceptionally difficult for schools to try to work in Austin to secure some additional funds,” Allison said. “The last time the state of Texas increased school funding for schools was 2019. So our board was very active in making trips to Austin. We reached out to every elected official we could think of to talk about the reality of what this is doing to schools.”

He asked the audience, which was mostly business people, to think about the funding issue from a business perspective.

“If you've seen, since 2019, increases in almost every aspect of your business—salary, health care, construction, all of those things—[school] districts are no different,” Allison said. “All of those expenses that you have as a business we have as well. And we don't have the ability to increase our revenue.”

Before wrapping up his thoughts on funding, Allison had an ask for those in attendance.

“When you meet elected officials, please talk to them about helping fund schools across the state of Texas because it's going to reach a critical point,” he said. “We're going to have to have really difficult budget discussions for next year's budget. Because there's no additional revenue coming in, and our costs continue to go up. If we want to be able to provide salary increases and keep our staff, that's going to be critical. We can't afford to sustain everything we're doing.”