Dallas Public Schools: So Are We In the Red Or Not?

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There’s been much made of late about whether or not Dallas ISD is in the red. I’m not sure why – the budget (if you know how to read a public school district budget) has been discussed in two separate school board meetings – but for whatever reason, some media confuses how school funds are spent, and lumps everything together.

You may have seen the reports – The district is in the red $43 million dollars! The district was short $10 million and has to lay people off! The budget director left because of all that!

Is it true? Well, let’s dive in.

As fellow education writer Eric Celeste pointed out in his posts about the same thing – no, Gilbert Prado didn’t leave in ignominy. He was sought after by Garland ISD, who offered him a deal Dallas ISD countered but couldn’t top. I’ll get into more about why Prado is sought after in a minute, but let’s just let that sit there and marinate for a second.

While we’re doing that, let’s talk about funding. Let’s start with the smallest number talked about – the $10 million that has resulted in layoffs. Now, another outlet would confuse this money with the money in the general operating budget, but we’re not another outlet, so we’re not going to do that. And you all are smart people who can understand what I’m about to lay out.

That money is in a completely different kitty, earmarked for completely different programs. It doesn’t go in the general operating budget. So you can’t conflate a fluctuation in Title 1 funding with being in the red – a lot goes in to determining how much you get, largely based on student population and other factors.

Now for that big number – $43 million. That $43 million is the Bridge Fund Plan unanimously voted on by trustees months ago. Now, if you recall (and apparently some journalists don’t), that $43 million comes out of the $342 million reserve fund the district has. This reserve is actually now more than what the state requires, which is phenomenal.

So if you follow the math, that would be $342 million minus $43 million. Only it gets better. During last week’s school board meeting, it was revealed that the district didn’t spend all it had budgeted in the operating budget this year, to the tune of about $23 million. That’s right – the district actually spent less than it had. It had money left over. You know what this means? It means that the reserve fund only takes a hit for about $20 million at the end of the day.

But let’s slow it down a little more. For example, in the Erickson household, we use one credit card to pay for everything all month. We get this bill at the end of the month and at first it looks like a “holy crap, that’s a big bill” thing. But no, it’s not really. Why? Because the money to pay it is sitting in the bank account, ready to be used to pay down that debt.

This is a very very very simplified comparison of how the bridge plan works. Right now, because of the way accounting works, it appears like the district is $43 million in the red. But it’s not. For one, since the district spent less than projected from it’s operating budget, there is actually a $20 million deficit, not $43 million. This means the district only has to take $20 million from its $342 million reserve.

If you’re playing the home game, this is like when your house floods during a torrential downpour, and you have to pay the insurance deductible, but hey cool, you have a savings account for these things. This would be like taking $500 from your savings account to cover a one-time expenditure you drew on your checking account.

So the district spent $23 million less than it was projected to spend originally. A one-time expenditure to address some urgent needs for the district was approved, and taken out of what is basically the district savings account. There is still more money in the account than the state requires.

The district is in phenomenal financial shape. That is the takeaway. The other? That’s why Gilbert Prado was and is in high demand.

But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

Reader Interactions


  1. mmJoanna England says

    Thank you for the detailed report! I am amazed at how many news organizations are reporting absolutely incorrect figures. It’s totally shameful!

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