North Texas educators alarmed by coming budget cuts

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by GARY REAVES

WFAA

Posted on January 25, 2011 at 12:06 AM

DALLAS — The first look at the state's budget is sending local school districts into panic mode.

This time around, trimming supplies and reducing the use of copy machines won't cut it.

School districts will eliminate jobs.

The current bill in the Texas House could translate into a loss of $9.8 billion dollars and 100,000 jobs statewide, analysts say.

For your child's school, that means cuts so deep even teachers won't be spared.

It is a huge hit for the Dallas Independent School District, the second largest in the state. DISD is looking to cut a jaw-dropping $260 million, and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says everything is on the table.

At Spence Middle School in Dallas, Gina Lopez's son Juan makes straight A's, and she smiles when asked about his future career in the CIA.

But Lopez fears that future is in jeopardy with the budget cuts coming from Austin.

"If they cut the budget, there will be less teachers, more kids in the classroom, and that's not a good situation," she said through translator.

Two years ago, DISD faced major protests when a $60 million budget shortfall forced it to cut 1,000 jobs.

The latest state budget would slash four times that amount — $256 million — and Superintendent Hinojosa said that means deep staff cuts.

"Under the worst case scenario, it has to be over a thousand staff members," he said, adding that the district has no choice but to plan for the most extreme case.

Hinojosa and other superintendents would like to consider furloughs, salary reductions and tax increases, that would require the legislature to change laws and grant them flexibility.

"Everything is on the table," Hinojosa said. "I know this is the first shot, but we have to start with what they've given us ... we've got to start planning.

Experts say smaller classes make learning more effective, and teachers fear cuts of this magnitude are flirting with disaster.

"If the people aren't there, then the classes will get larger," said Rena Honea, president of the Alliance/AFT teacher's union. "Our public schools will not be effective any longer; that the quality of the education will be a baby-sitting service."

The Irving ISD is now mulling the possibility of a $29 million budget cut — double what they had been contemplating just a week ago.

One solution would be for state lawmakers to tap into the a $9 billion "rainy day" fund. Without the additional support, Irving ISD Superintendent Dana Bedden said Texas public education could be thrown back to the age of the dinosaur.

School districts across North Texas are planning for bad budget news.

Fort Worth ISD is estimating its loss could be as much as $60 million, or 15 percent of its budget. And the Carroll ISD says its budget could be shaved between $3 million and $9 million.

Every public school in Texas will be affected.

E-mail greaves@wfaa.com

 

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