Hundreds of former Dallas Independent School District teachers flocked to Harold Wendell Lang Sr. Middle School late yesterday. They were hoping to find new jobs after being told earlier this week that they were caught at the fault line of a shifting, budget-tightening rearrangement. The school's parking lot was packed. Cops directed traffic as cars parked bumper-to-bumper along the streets for blocks circling the campus, and little asphalt was visible in the lots of adjacent businesses.
Just another example of the district's counting problems, high school librarian Hobie Hukill told Unfair Park. As you might imagine, this wasn't the most hopeful of job fairs.
The perfect storm of a gutted budget, expanding class sizes and more than 1,000 teachers opting for the district's buyouts last spring resulted in 800 teachers receiving reassignment letters this week. Last night's packed job fair was meant to fill vacancies largely left by buyouts with teachers whose positions were changed or eliminated. The fair took a musical-chairs approach -- 700 available jobs, 800 teachers of varying qualifications. Ready, set, go, they were told. Shop around and hope for the best. Try not to end up empty-handed.
The media wasn't invited. The district was reluctant to even say where it was, and The Dallas Morning News's advancer about the event even left out the day and time. I managed to talk to a few teachers outside before my visit was cut short, made by the attending police officers to walk directly to the street, with a cop watching to make sure I obliged.
"I'm one of 42 [librarians] that were thrown into the garbage heap," Hukill told me outside. "There are hundreds of teachers who are in dire straights -- no fault of their own." He explained that trustees voted 7-2 in June to reinstate librarians' positions, and another vote in August will put the measure into effect. Until then, librarians are technically in the same uncertain pool as the hundreds of others. "I'm going to assume I'm somewhat peripheral to this process," Hukill said. "I'm coming to watch the train wreck."
A high school English teacher about to enter the job expo was more patient with the situation. "It's a recession, everywhere teachers are being laid off," she said, requesting anonymity because of her job situation. "You just have to go with the flow."
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Leaving the building, a high school social studies teacher told me the fair "wasn't very productive." Upon entering, he was directed to the auditorium, where teachers were sorted by high school, middle school and elementary, then he was sent to the cafeteria, where he waited in line for 15 minutes to talk to the representative of a hiring school. He left the building feeling "very optimistic" about a middle school position, but still realistic. "Worst-case scenario, I will be a permanent sub," he said.
A middle school in-school suspension teacher and coach said that like many others, he went in with an "inside hook up," having already spoken to a high school principal interested in hiring him. He said his position had been cut from all elementary and middle schools, so he had to look to high schools. "I haven't seen anything like this. The world is changing," he said of his eight years of teaching.
A woman walking alongside the school refused to join our conversation, but walked away saying, "They're just playing games in there."
"A lot of people I think may have just wasted gas," a middle school history teacher said. He didn't have time to network beforehand, but was still able to find a new position. "It's a sink-or-swim type of thing ... I'm just trying to survive." He put on a happy face all year, not knowing how long he would have a job, and in a few weeks he'll show up for work at a different school than the place he's worked for four years. "I think change is always going to be hard," he said. "But it's necessary."