Furlough bill irks Texas teachers

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on June 6, 2011 at 8:33 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 6 at 10:48 PM

Brushing aside protesting teachers and parents, the Texas Senate late Monday passed a bill that would give school districts new powers to furlough and restructure the pay of teachers.

The bill now goes to the House.

The Senate already approved $4 billion in cuts in the special legislative session and the House will consider them later this week.

But senators on Monday took up the furlough bill as teachers and parents from North Texas and elsewhere demonstrated at the Capitol — turning up the volume with the hope of turning up more votes.

With time slipping before final school funding votes, they want the Republican-controlled Legislature to spend more of the $6 billion remaining in the state's Rainy Day Fund.

"That's why the money is there," said Dallas ISD elementary school teacher Chrisdya Houston. "It's for us to be able to use when it's raining in Texas, and there is a storm in Texas right now."

Earlier Monday, Houston and other Dallas teachers boarded a bus to Austin to lobby lawmakers and help deliver a petition with 24,000 names against the cuts.

But the teachers also urged senators to block the bill by Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) that would let districts furlough teachers, cut teacher pay and shorten the time to notify teachers of layoffs from 45 to 10 days before school ends.

Shapiro said the measure would save jobs. "We are trying to give them more tools," she explained. "A furlough is a possibility; a reduction in salary across the board, one percent cuts, more tools so that school districts do not have to fire their teachers."

But lobbying groups like the American Federation of Teachers claim that by spending more, Shapiro's bill wouldn't be needed.

"Why are we trying to cut funding to education when it should be a priority?" Houston asked.

But the priority of Republicans in the senate is to balance the budget without raising taxes. So although the demonstration turned up the volume, it turned up no victory for more money.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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