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Staffing Considerations to Meet a Tight Budget

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Due to the loss of federal COVID relief funding, declining student enrollments, and a lack of state legislative action to support school funding, many Texas school districts are faced with tough staffing decisions to meet projected budget deficits.  

Leaders are forced to be very intentional with staffing decisions since personnel costs make up approximately 80 to 85 percent of the overall budget. Several school districts in Texas have announced they are facing “significant budget deficits” and are planning on laying off staff for the next school year. Strategies to navigate these challenges successfully are described below.

Evaluate Staffing

Inventory current staffing at each campus, auxiliary department, and central office department. Evaluate the current staffing plan if one exists — create one if needed. Knowing the full-time equivalents (FTEs) allotted per campus and department helps when making data-informed decisions. The goal is to identify areas overstaffed and available for adjustments. Comparing your district staffing allocations to staffing benchmarks, state averages, peer districts, and professional organization staffing standards helps provide a good look at current staffing levels.

Gather and analyze the current and projected student enrollment, student demographics, and academic programs offered. Districts must balance maintaining enough staff to do the job effectively while meeting budgetary constraints to ensure salary increases can still be considered for remaining staff. Recruitment and retention efforts must still be considered.  

Analyze Vacancies

Instead of automatically posting and filling vacancies, evaluate each open position to determine if it is an opportunity to reduce through attrition. Attrition is the easiest way to absorb positions as employees leave voluntarily and amicably.

Some districts accomplish this task through a staffing committee representative of departments and campuses across the district. This type of approach reduces criticism and thoughts that certain areas are being targeted.

Employees who remain in the district are less affected by these types of adjustments. While it may result in additional responsibilities or duties given to employees, emotions tend to be less apparent with this type of action.

Offer an Early Resignation Notice Incentive

An early resignation notice incentive is a cash incentive to employees who already intend to resign at the end of the school year in return for submitting their resignation early. Districts can offer the incentive to employees who agree to resign in early spring by a given date. This allows the district to have more options with decisions on vacancies.

Work with your local counsel when implementing an early resignation notice incentive program to ensure the policy isn’t discriminatory and doesn’t present any legal risks. More information can be found in the TASB School Law eSource document Early Notice and Exit Incentives – Points to Consider (member login required).

Delay Issuing Probationary Contracts

Wait until the latest possible date to provide probationary contracts to certified staff. If attrition and other actions are not enough to overcome a budget deficit, this group of contract employees may need to be considered for termination. Texas Education Code (TEC) § 21.103 (a) provides school boards the ability to terminate a probationary contract at the end of the contract period if, in the board’s judgment, the terminations best serve the district.

The employee must receive notice of the board’s termination decision not later than the tenth day before the last day of instruction required under the contract. See Board Policy DFAB(LEGAL) and seek legal counsel if the district wishes to pursue this action.

Keep in mind, at-will employees may be terminated at any time. See Board Policy DCD(LEGAL) and (LOCAL). Non-certified or non-Chapter 21 contracts may be dismissed for good cause before the completion of the term stated in the contract or the board may decide by vote or inaction not to offer an employee this type of contract beyond its term for any reason or no reason. See Board Policy DCE(LEGAL) and (LOCAL).

More information can be found in the HRX article Staffing and Probationary Contracts.

Think Outside the Box

Other ways to reduce staff include the following:

  • Combine job duties (e.g., one supervisor for maintenance and transportation, athletic director also coaches, and secondary assistant principal oversees the DAEP).
  • Evaluate secondary master schedules for staffing efficiencies.
  • Increase class sizes at all levels.
  • Modify instructional arrangements (e.g., ESL, bilingual/dual language, intervention, gifted and talented, and push-in vs. pull-out services/programs).
  • Evaluate the current workload of auxiliary staff, special programs staff, coaches, curriculum coordinators, and instructional coaches.
  • Hire licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) instead of registered nurses (RNs) for smaller campus clinics.
  • Hire library aides instead of librarians for smaller libraries.

Reduction in Force

As a last resort, the district may be forced to implement a reduction in force (RIF). To conduct a RIF, the district must claim financial exigency or a program change. Financial exigency means the financial position of a school district, as a whole, is such that the financial resources are insufficient to support the school district’s instructional programs, or the school district is unable to finance the full compensation of staff for the current or next fiscal year.

A program change is the elimination, curtailment, or reorganization of a program, department, school operation, or curriculum offering. Employment areas must be identified in the process and criteria for reduction in staff must be determined and preset. See Board Policy DFF(LEGAL) and (LOCAL), DFFA(LEGAL) and (LOCAL, and DFFB(LEGAL) and (LOCAL).


Communication and collaboration are the keys to making strategic staffing changes work. Provide justification for staffing changes. Keeping the staffing plan aligned to the district’s mission, vision, and goals is vital.

Sharing the staffing challenges and budget data with key stakeholders is important as it encourages and facilitates buy-in for easier implementation. If district leaders, supervisors, principals, and the community understand the constraints and challenges, they are more able to collaborate, provide input, support difficult staffing decisions, and communicate changes.

Avoid working in silos when determining staffing decisions and remember to keep the conversation going throughout the process.


Be proactive instead of reactive during this challenging time, if possible. Review all statutes and board policies pertaining to contracts, termination, and reassignment. Finally, seek legal counsel prior to taking action.


For more information related to this subject, see the following resources:

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Cheryl Hoover
Cheryl Hoover

Cheryl Hoover joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with staffing and HR reviews, training, and other HR projects. During Hoover’s public school career, she served as an executive director of curriculum and principal leadership, executive director of human resources, principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.

Hoover earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and obtained her master’s degree from Texas State University. She is a certified PHR.

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