To deal with the projected $84 million budget shortfall the district is facing, superintendent Michael Hinojosa just laid out what he called "prudent, fiscally responsible, feasible" solutions that are "doable right now." To which he added, "Despite that, they will be painful." His solutions, however, total only $77 million.
He is asking the board to authorize firing 675 contracted teachers who are "over-formula," which Hinojosa said will save the district $24 million. "These are only about 25 to 50 more teachers than we'd originally identified in our first projections," he said, as though this were good news. He's also suggesting laying off 70 "non-teaching support personnel" currently on campuses, at a savings of $2.8 million. Also to be let go: 50 campus administrators, another $2.8 million savings, he said.
In terms of non-contract employees, Hinojosa is recommending eliminating 164 central office positions -- but only half of those are filled, as the rest have been vacant due to a hiring freeze. That will save $3.6 million. "We have also identified 250 campus support staff members that are at-will," he said, including "clerks, teachers' assistant, hall monitors and other positions that have been added that are above formula." That will save $4.2 million.
But that only gets the district halfway there, if that.
Update at 4:40 p.m.: Trustee Lew Blackburn is demanding to see a list of employees Hinojosa wants to layoff, and is demanding to see it in the open and not in closed session, as has been suggested. He is threatening to go to the Texas Attorney General if he's not allowed to see it. Meanwhile, the board seems to be leaning toward putting off voting on Hinojosa's suggestions today, as they're demanding more time to look at his plan. Carla Ranger especially wants to see everything being done to get the district out of this "catastrophic situation."
Update at 5 p.m.: Yet again, the board has put off voting on a reduction in force -- they need their "study" time, says Ranger, who accused Hinojosa of keeping the budget shortfall a secret for far too long. Right now, it looks as though the board will meet in closed session next Thursday to discuss the list of RIFs Blackburn is demanding to see because he doesn't trust that Hinojosa has made the right choices. "We trusted you," he said, "and $64 million happened."
Update at 5:31 p.m.: Half of the 675 teachers to be let go will be core teachers, those who specialize in math and science, and Price isn't having it. Trustee Leigh Ann Ellis wants to look for further cuts "outside the classroom"; "we're looking for checks and balances," she says, how novel. "You gave us these numbers and figures, but we want to see the process." Alas, the board is leaning toward putting off voting on the superintendent's suggestions till next Thursday, because of that frustration over their being denied a chance to look at the details. "We have to make this decision to become solvent," says Hinojosa, who's pressing for a vote right now.
Update at 5:54 p.m.: The longer this meeting goes, the more it sounds as though the board no longer trusts Hinojosa -- and he no longer trusts them. There have been repeated demands to see his list of teachers and staffers recommended for termination. There have been copious suggestions that not all options had been considered. And, finally, the board keeps refusing to give Hinojosa what he wants: the OK to begin firing teachers, who will be given till January before they must vacate the premises. And the district will lose $1 million more every week, say trustee Edwin Flores and the superintendent, till action is taken. Hinojosa will not suffer a delay in voting: "The landscape's not going to change that much" in a week, he said moments ago. "We have people watching us: We have the ratings agencies watching us, the Texas Education Agency. We have to deal with it. If we don't, we may not have that opportunity next week. ... This is a very serious situation."
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Update at 6:23 p.m.: At 6:05, Lowe reiterated what the super said: People are watching, we must vote immediately. To which Price said, No. He wants to wait one more week, even if the board has to ask the Commissioner of Education to keep the state's hands off the district till Hinojosa and the administration prove to the board that they have done everything possible to "save as many teachers as we can." Price said, "This is the toughest vote I've ever taken in 11 years, and all I'm saying to the commissioner if he's watching this tape or whoever, allow us time to get every question we've asked answered." He knows layoffs are inevitable; they all do. But Flores said the district's still $7.7 million short even with the recommendations, and the debt's growing every week the board delays a vote. "I'm ready to move forward today," he said. But that will not happen: Lowe said he was opposed to delaying the vote, but it Price's motion passed unanimously -- which will infuriate the superintendent, who appears to have lost at least several board members.
Right now, the board is talking about using alternative funding sources, including federal grants, and moving 300 positions to that line. Which doesn't look likely.
Hinojosa also said there will be other "non-personnel items" being excised that will amount to $8 million in savings, including capital outlay reductions, overtime, supplemental pay, consultants and energy consumption.
Trustee Ron Price said other trustees from districts around the state are "praying for us." Too little, too late? --Robert Wilonsky