DISD Will Buy Out "Excess" Teachers & Other Highlights from Testy, Tear-Stained Meeting

Thursday evening, Dallas Independent School District trustees approved resignation incentives for the 209 "unassigned" employees who are under contract but lack permanent positions after personnel cuts and rearrangements this summer. Teachers, principals, librarians and counselors in the pool now have the option of filing their resignation by November 1 and receiving paychecks through the end of January, to the tune of about $3 million in payouts from the financially ailing district.

Trustee Carla Ranger took issue with the policy's verbiage. "Forced placed," she said, reiterating the phrase oft-repeated at Monday's meeting, implies that the superintendent is placing a teacher in a permanent position. "So I should make a note on here that they will not be force placed, they will be temporarily assigned."

"Yes," she was told by district staff, who clarified a series of her questions.

"It's not an involuntary demand," said board president Lew Blackburn. "This is your opportunity to be selected by that principal to be the permanent person for that position." The measure passed 8-0, with Ranger abstaining from the vote. But that was merely the headline from a meeting filled with fascinating footnotes that included an appearance from John Wiley Price's right-hand man.

During the buyout discussion, Blackburn warned the issue is merely a page in the budget-crunch playbook. "There will be some type of reduction coming forward," he said, as the district braces itself for a loss of more than $30 million in state funding (equivalent to 400 jobs) in the coming budget cycle.

Those who choose not to accept the resignation offer will be assigned to the 102 open spots for the remainder of the school year. Unless a principal chooses to hire them, their contracts will not be renewed, which puts the responsibility on teachers to prove themselves in the classroom -- though even with a stellar record, nothing is guaranteed.

Another issue that passed despite much ado from Ranger was a change to board policy that would require more than one dissenting vote for an agenda item to be pulled for a separate vote at trustee meetings. While Mike Morath emphasized that they must work as a team -- "We've got some serious problems with student achievement, and we've got to commit to it as a group." -- Ranger was joined by Adam Medrano and Bruce Parrott in her opposition to the policy change.

Ranger emphasized the power in being the lone dissenter. "This policy disturbs me greatly," she said. Martin Luther King Jr "was celebrated because he was a person who dissented."

"A democracy thrives on dissent," she said. "This policy goes against good governance. This protects the tyranny of the majority, and it suppresses the minority, and I cannot support it." And yes, we're still talking about a policy shift that requires more than one person's support to move an item for a separate discussion and vote -- which still requires a majority for passage. Ranger would later take to her blog and offer another brief take on this particular issue.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, these two issues went unaddressed while a parade of speakers took to the mic in support of former Ebby Halliday Elementary School principal Kamalia Cotton, who voluntarily left her position earlier this month after allegations of student abuse and bad management. Nearly every seat was full, until about two-thirds of the crowd filed out the door after the public comment period.

Commissioner John Wiley Price's name lit up on the projector screen's list of speakers, but he was nowhere to be seen. His executive assistant Vincent Hall spoke in "unyielding and unwavering" support of Cotton on his behalf. "We cannot allow educators like Ms. Cotton to have their reputations sullied and stained," he said.

An eighth-grader from the Barack Obama Leadership Academy spoke presidentially in support of his former principal. "She cared deeply about her students ... Ms. Cotton believed in discipline," said Dalton Sherman, famous for the 2008 back-to-school speech that landed him on Oprah and Ellen. "I had the pleasure of being sent to Ms. Cotton's office on several occasions for talking. ... I consider it a privilege to speak on her behalf, because she is the best."

Ebbie Holiday teacher Lauette James Smith called Cotton a "rock-star principal." Since her departure, Smith said, "We are going through a lot of hostility at our school, and our children are being affected. So what about our children?"

"To work for her was a joy," added another teacher, Stephanie Hill. Now, the "loving environment," established by Cotton, has become "paranoid and suspicious."

A fourth-grade girl tearfully addressed trustees with up-front distaste for the replacement of her former Highland Hills principal, Jan Jones. Several other parents, one tearful, voiced concerns over the school's change in leadership.

Another topic addressed by many speakers was the board's consideration of outsourcing custodians. "I'm more than just a custodian at E.B. Comstock," said Billy Ray Sanders, who has worked for DISD for over 30 years.

In the heat of budget cuts and personnel rearrangements, and with many more on this year's agenda, it's certain that the public speaking portion of DISD meetings will continue to get quite a work-out.

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