DISD Trustee Eric Cowan On "Mass Layoffs," "The New Reality" and How We Got Here

Dallas Independent School District trustee Eric Cowan's first blog entry of 2011 is a sobering follow-up to Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's budget-gutting presentation to the board on Thursday: "The Economics of Public Education." There's no easy way to sum it up, as Cowan take a look at how wound up in this mess -- which could, in a worst-case scenario, lead to more than 3,000 teacher layoffs, an enormous leap in class size and the eradication of a number of programs.

Writes Cowan: "If each of the [region's] school districts dealt with the budget cuts solely with layoffs, the number of combined layoffs could range from 9,000 to 12,000. If you add Ft. Worth ISD and other districts in the Metroplex, the number of educators out of work could exceed 15,000." Here, from the section titled "HOW CAN DISD AVOID MASS LAYOFFS?":

Currently, school districts are limited in how they can manage the potential shortfall. Current legislation does not allow for furlough days or salary cuts for certain employees. Current law also does not permit districts to increase the elementary student-to-teacher ratio to 25:1, which would save DISD approximately $20 million.

I do not consider furlough days to be an effective long-term strategy. However, if furlough days could save $44 million and reduce layoffs then I would support that action for next year.

District-wide salary cuts could also reduce the number of layoffs. A 15% reduction in total payroll costs would save the district approximately $150 million, nearly 2500 jobs.

Professional stipends account for $25 million of DISD's budget. While these stipends are used to attract top teachers in areas difficult to employ, the number is too large not to be considered. Other areas to be considered are contract/consulting services, supplies, travel expenses, and other workday reductions.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky