Yet Again, Live From 3700 Ross

The Dallas Independent School District board of trustees is meeting, yet again, to discuss laying off some 675 teachers courtesy the $148-million budget shortfall. The link to the live feed's here, as the "budget workshop" began promptly at 3:14 p.m. Feel free to watch along and pipe in with comments. Updates are after the jump, as appropriate -- including, at 4:09 p.m., trustee Ron Price's suggestion that the school board follow the Dallas City Council's lead and hold public budget meetings. Novel! --Robert Wilonsky

Update at 3:31 p.m.: Superintendent Michael Hinojosa just offered his opening remarks, in which he said, no kidding, "The last three weeks have not been pleasant for any of us." He said that 550 teachers will be laid off, and that he's spoken repeatedly with several of the teachers' groups, including Aimee Bolander, president of Alliance AFT Dallas, to come up with a plan that will be "fair, objective and defensible" and will follow policy. But Hinojosa has allowed himself an out, insisting there have been "varied interpretations of the policy by various lawyers."

The agreement, he says, will involve district-wide layoffs, rather than by campus, and will follow policy -- meaning, the district will weight certification (out-of-state certification won't be considered full certification), performance (teachers with a "below-expectations" rating will be considered first for release) and seniority (it will serve as a "tie-breaker"), followed by "professional background," which Hinojosa says likely won't be used. And contracted personnel will be notified "no earlier than October 10 and no later than October 17" about their employment status.

Update at 3:36 p.m.: Hinojosa has offered a deal: If a teacher accepts a layoff without filing an appeal, he or she will be paid through January 16, including benefits. "And the district will honor unemployment compensation," he said. Non-contracted employees who accept the layoff will be paid through Halloween. Employees who are released will have three work days to make a decision on the settlement ofier, "which will give them the opportunity to counsel with whomever they wish," the superintendent said. They'll also be allowed to give a three-minute presentation to a panel of "high-ranking DISD officials and a school board member" and union reps to make a case "in a professional manner why his or her position is important and the impact he or she has made." But, he stressed, this is not an appeal.

Update at 3:50 p.m.: Trustee Ron Price doesn't want the Texas Education Agency coming in and has demanded the board to act today -- which all but guarantees that today, the board will finally approve the RIF. Because, far as Price is concerned, "if [the state] has to cone in, they're going to cut a lot of programs designed for urban children." Said Price, who's being booed by folks in attendance who want the board to put off the vote, if the TEA comes in, "We will lose our authority. ... I don't want TEA coming in here at all."

Update at 4 p.m.: Trustee Carla Ranger is troubled that contracted employees have to sacrifice their right to sue in order to get their settlement. And she's got a good point: She echoes something we've heard quite often in recent days, which is that teachers are being taunted by principals who will use the RIF to settle scores, as one teacher told Unfair Park yesterday. The teachers are "quite innocent in all of this, and we've learned that -- and I've been told that -- there are managers who will be unfair and may not treat or may not make those selections fairly."

Update at 4:03 p.m.: Trustee Jerome Garza is applauding the superintendent for, finally, bringing in an outside CPA to straighten out the books. It's time to "develop systems with integrity." Yes, yes it is. Garza, like Price, also voted against moving forward with the RIF last week; this week, looks like he too will vote for it.

Update at 4:09 p.m.: Wow, they want to talk about finances at every board meeting. "This is real important," says board president Jack Lowe. A-pluses for everyone! This, incidentally, is due to the fact that the board only reviews the books once -- at the end of the year. Trustee Edwin Flores admitted as much yesterday during a private meeting with one middle school's parents. And he was embarrassed by that revelation. Price, insisting the district needs to "be more transparent" about its budget, suggests following the Dallas City Council's lead to hold "two meetings minimum in each trustee's districts" during which the public can go over the district's budget. Couldn't hurt -- like anyone could do worse with it?

Update at 4:30 p.m.: Ron Price wants to know how the district can justify keeping "hundreds of contracts under $50,000" -- meaning, with outside vendors -- when it's getting ready to lay off teachers. Alas, he's assured they'll be reviewed. When? Dunno. By whom? The people who got the district into this mess in the first place.

Update at 4:35 p.m.: Price and Rangers want to know if the administration has considered asking teachers across the board to take a five-percent pay cut in order to avoid layoffs. Said Ranger, why aren't we "asking employees if they'd be willing to participate in that plan in order to save jobs and not have to lay off teachers?" Hinojosa said it was discussed, but that the "actual number of actual savings was difficult to project not knowing how many people would actually sign off on it." And the board was told contracted teachers would also sue them for that pay, thus eradicating the savings. In other words, next ...

Update at 4:38 p.m.: Does Adam Medrano every say anything? Because three meetings into this process, and damned if I can recall his saying a single word.

Update at 5:11 p.m.: Lew Blackburn doesn't believe central administration will lose as many folks as it oughta -- which is all of them! Kidding, but from the deadpan tone in the trustee's voice -- and the cheers behind him -- it's not far off. Folks with whom we've spoken in recent days want the organization chart gutted before a single teacher's laid off. "And we only lose six" from one mammoth department on the org chart, Blackburn says. "We only lose six." Hinojosa's also talking about moving some folks to "alternate funding." Say this for Blackburn: He will not make this easy on the super.

Update at 5:24 p.m.: This is going to last for hours -- eight, to be specific, as Schutze was told yesterday by one trustee who said he was kidding, but apparently wasn't. Jim's at 3700 Ross Ave. -- and the link's up, but if you've read this far, you're either listening online or a shut-in whose computer only reaches Unfair Park, in which case, my condolences. Me, I need to run to the liquor store before tonight's veep debate; drinking game suggestions, awesome. Also, take a shot every time DISD admin defers a question to "Col. Olson."

After Blackburn all but told Hinojosa he'd betrayed the teachers -- "We want to let the teachers go while we stay comfortable in the big house" -- Jim texted with the message: "Good stuff: Teachers in big room going wild." Blackburn wants to approve all new hires -- even folks with a "$10 contract." Drinks? Yes. Now.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky