DISD Board Will Consider Using $10 Mil From General Fund to Pay Teachers to Leave Early

When last I looked at the Dallas Independent School District board's meeting agenda for Thursday, there was no item offering to pay some 1,000 teachers up to $10,000 to take early retirement under the so-called "new reality." But, sure enough, it's there now, as Tawnell Hobbs noted this morning: "Consider and Take Possible Action to Approve an Early Notification Resignation Incentive of 15% of Annual Base Salary, Not to Exceed $10,000.00 for the First 1000 Contract Educators to Apply if They Notify the District in Writing by March 11, 2011 and Work Through the End of the School Year."

Teachers on probation, it should be noted, aren't eligible for the buyout offer, which the board would have to approve first. Tawnell's piece doesn't say, though, where the money will come from. So I asked Jon Dahlander, DISD spokesman, who says the up-to-$10-million in buyout offers will come directly from the general fund.

Dahlander says the agenda item was added late yesterday, though "it's been in the works for a while," he tells Unfair Park. "It's been a topic behind the scenes, and they wanted to get it on the board's agenda. And if the board approves this, the thinking is those individuals who take advantage of this may retire, or they may have other options available to them. They may be in a position where something like this is attractive to them."

But as several Friends of Unfair Park have pointed out since Tawnell's item went up a couple of hours ago, isn't the district worried that some of its best teachers will use the opportunity to jump ship now, lest they wind up being laid off before the budget's balanced in June? How, they wonder, will the district work to ensure its best teachers don't take the money and run?

"The board is working on coming up with the criteria for who ends up going first and who goes second," he says. "School districts have been grappling with that for a long time -- how do you determine the best teachers? We've been working with AFT and the Gates Foundation to determine the best tools to use for teacher assessment, and that's up for discussion in the middle of all of this."

I ask: What if, worst-case scenario, the 1,000 best teachers in the district decide to go?

"Hopefully, they don't," he says. "This is set up for people where retirement is on the horizon for them or they may have something else on the horizon. We'll see. But we have a lot of great teachers in the school district. A lot of them. The vast majority of them are very good teachers, and I'm thinking when this is all said and done, the vast majority will still be good teachers."

As for the possible $10-million expenditure, Dahlander reminds that there was a $63-million budget surplus following last school year, and at the moment, the district's projecting a $20-million budget surplus this year, which would put the fund balance back over $100 million.

The district, of course, doesn't want to touch that while it makes cuts -- for two reasons. One, says Dahlander, "it doesn't replenish itself -- unlike the state's Rainy Day Fund, which is funded by oil and gas proceeds." And, he reminds, former chief financial officer Larry Throm insisted the fund balance needed to reach closer to $150 million. "The goal for any school district is to be able to have two pay periods in the bank," says Dahlander.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky