Working overtime on school budget crisis

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by MONIKA DIAZ

WFAA

Posted on February 19, 2011 at 7:45 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 21 at 3:56 PM

The push is on for Texas lawmakers to consider all resources to deal with the budget crisis — including diving into the state's $9.4 billion "rainy day" fund.

The emergency fund has been used in the past to help pay for public schools, prisons and health care. The governor and some lawmakers don't want to do touch it, but some educators and parents say it's time to again access that money.

Some families took that message Saturday to State Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R-District 107) at his new office in Dallas.

"I keep on getting the feeling that they all want us to meekly accept that there is going to be cuts,"  said Susan Schuerger of the Woodrow Wilson Community Council. "It hurts my feelings. It insults me as a parent and as a concerned citizen."

Woodrow Wilson Parent-Teachers Association President Jill Cochran believes the state's ranking in education will drop even more if the budget cuts become reality.

"We are already at the bottom, and we don't need to race to be last," said Cochran. "We understand there's a budget shortfall, but you cannot cut the school funding for our children."

Rep. Sheets didn't make any promises, but he told News 8 he is also concerned.

"Everything the state funds is going to have some cuts," Sheets said. "We just to need to make sure we are doing these cuts with a scalpel rather than with an ax."

About 25 miles away in Allen, a school budget meeting Saturday revealed that AISD is already reducing its costs by $3.5 million by taking advantage of resignations and retirements. The district has also implemented salary and hiring freezes.

"Right now, we are looking at everything we can to protect our teachers, to protect the ones we have, said AISD Superintendent Ken Helvey.

Funding cuts to Allen ISD could be between $18 million to $23 million, but Helvey is optimistic. He believes the state will take action.

"Personally, I don't think it will be to that level, mainly because I have looked at that number and that kind of cut across the state from every district would devastate public education," the AISD superintendent said.

The grim picture across the state is pushing parents to recruit others. They want their voices to reach the state Capitol one way or another.

"We've got a ton of people sending letters to their legislators, meeting with their legislators, planning rallies in Austin," Cochra said.  "We've got a long battle ahead of us. I think more and more parents are going to come out and be heard."

E-mail mdiaz@wfaa.com

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