While teacher and bus driver shortages persist in a number of local school districts, newly passed legislation from Austin has created another staffing challenge: armed guards.
Staffing challenges continue as students return to school this year: as of last Thursday, there were 230 teacher vacancies in Katy ISD, 200 in Fort Bend ISD and 63 in Houston ISD.
Meanwhile, House Bill 3, which passed during this year's legislative session and was signed into law by Gov. Abbott, strengthened school safety requirements, including requiring all public schools in the state to have at least one armed security officer present during school hours. The state allotted $15,000 per school to enact the changes required in House Bill 3.
Many local districts have been struggling to hire enough security officers.
"All districts that have police departments, by my understanding, have struggled to fill spots," said Steven Bassett, deputy superintendent of Fort Bend ISD. "It's hard for them to compete monetarily with the municipalities, since they generally pay more."
Fort Bend ISD currently has 15 vacancies for security officers in the district, meaning over 20 percent of the required posts are still unfilled. Bassett said underfunding is largely to blame.
"There has been some funding that has come with these mandates, but it's not nearly enough," he said. "The amount that's been allotted per campus, $15,000, is not enough to pay a full-time police officer or armed security guard."
Fort Bend ISD, which has over 80 campuses, has been allotted a total of $1.4 million to enact House Bill 3, which Bassett said still leaves the district over $1 million short.
"For us to have enough security guards to fill all the spots we have at elementary schools, that's going to cost over $2.5 million," said Bassett.
Bassett said it will be impossible to fill all 15 vacancies before the law goes into effect Sept. 1, so the district is looking into contracting with an external firm.
In order to have the funds immediately available, Bassett said the district will have to deficit spend and that its board is considering proposing a bond to voters, which would slightly increase property taxes in the district in order to cover the extra cost.
"We don't want to have to ask our constituents to help us on the tax rate side, and that's something that's going to be up to the board of trustees later this month," he said. "But in many ways, that's the only option we have to close the gap on pay, not just for police officers but also for teachers."
Bassett said he wishes the state would have used a portion of its historic $33 billion surplus to increase funding for public schools, including fully funding House Bill 3's mandates.
"It's disappointing that the state has put us into this situation when the state overall has the biggest surplus its ever had," he said. "It's a tough situation."