Poorest School District Works To Survive On A Small Budget

Texans are still debating the best way to pay to educate our children. For years it meant, wealthier districts paid money to the state, which would ultimately go to poorer districts to help level the playing field.

A new law, that passed this year, reduced those payments and looked for other ways to generate cash for schools. But the plan is still being debated as not being good enough.

Just 45 miles east of Dallas, Boles ISD is the poorest school district in Texas and taking matters into their own hands on how to survive.

Robotics is king at the school district. Students design, program and have earned their way to global competitions for their robotic skills. It's all a big deal for a school district that's super small. All grade levels share a lunchroom, a gym, and a bus. It's the smallest and poorest school district in the state of Texas.

When Graham Sweeney first got here as superintendent, there were 156 students in K–12 and no money in the bank.

"We didn't have a maintenance department, I was it when we came. I did buy from JC Whitney, a bolts kit for $7.77 and I had to really think, 'Could I afford to spend this money?'"

The whole district is six square miles. The tax base is next to nothing. The only way Boles survives is through recapture, money taken from wealthier districts and sent here.

"If we went back to the way things were, I don't think Boles would exist," Sweeney said.

"I would challenge if the state was trying to drive reconsolidation, parents would revolt, and I think they would be choosing smaller over larger," Sweeney said.

In fact, neighboring Quinlan ISD, and state lawmakers have talked about consolidating Boles for years but it never came to be, with parents fighting to keep their local school. Knowing their status may not survive forever, administrators at Boles came up with a plan to grow. They started marketing their tiny school for what it was. A place where class size is 12 students per teacher, not 25 like in some other districts.

Teachers like Angie Riley took a pay cut to be on staff at Boles where she feels she can have a bigger impact on a child's growth thanks to the small class size and community involvement.

Since marketing the school, Boles has more than tripled enrollment over the last 10 years. They're now near their small buildings capacity, but still at a size that's very small and very desirable.

Out of the 540 students currently enrolled, 400 of them commute from other districts, coming to experience a different way of learning.

"It went from a little tiny country school, to a place where people are waiting to get into here," Riley said. "They are waiting to put their children into this school. That is was I think is unique to have a public school where you are on the waiting list to get in."

Increased enrollment meant more money to pay the bills, but as state lawmakers have reduced recapture payments, the district has still tried to balance the budget.

You can call them a second-hand district. Almost everything they buy is bought second hand, used and discarded by other districts, they find the old and give it new life.

"Arlington ISD had two very nice portables, a set of bathrooms and two classrooms and we were able to get those for 5,200 dollars each," Sweeney said.

It's their way of relying less on recapture and proving their worth by keeping this tiny district succeeding in the classroom and in the taxpayer's wallets.

Sweeney added as much as Boles benefits from recapture, even they think it's unfair to take money from bigger wealthier districts. They want to see reform and lawmakers find other ways to get money flowing to local schools.

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