Speaking at a press conference during the Texas Association of School Administrators’ Midwinter Conference, superintendents and trustees urged the Legislature to use the Rainy Day Fund and search for new revenue through fees instead of the proposed $10 billion in cuts. They also asked the Legislature to fix the current school finance system, which Northside superintendent John Folks called one of the “most inequitable and inadequate” funding mechanisms in the country.
In remarks that could portend a new school finance lawsuit, school leaders reminded legislators that the Texas constitution mandates that the state provide a “free and adequate” education to all children, saying that “there’s no clause that says ‘if funds are available.'”
Folks, who serves as superintendent of the San Antonio district and president of TASA, said it was “totally irresponsible” for lawmakers to ask districts to make cuts when the legislature had created a structural deficit in 2006 when it compressed property tax rates, limiting the amount of money districts could raise locally. As his district faces what could be a 28.5 percent reduction in funding, he said there’s “no question” there will be layoffs — as many as 565 positions.
His school district has cut or not filled 192 staff positions and is in the process of making 373 additional cuts. But that won’t be nearly enough to meet the state’s budget cuts.
It would take another 400 job cuts for his district to reach a 10 percent budget cut.
The state’s budget proposals would demand even more slashing at the local level, Folk said – about $97 million per year for Northside.
“I don’t know how we could operate. When you take almost $200 million out of an operating budget of $680 million, that’s a 28.5 percent cut,” Folks said.
“It’s that extra help that have allowed school districts all across Texas to raise student achievement and narrowing the gap. That’s going away,” Folks said. That’s one of my biggest fears. It’s going to hurt student achievement as we eliminate jobs, as we raise class size.”
If the proposed budget is not significantly changed, Northside has to cut nearly $100 million a year.
“At $50,000 a pop, that’s 2,000 teachers. We have 7,500 teachers at Northside. We can’t operate,” Folks said.
There’s the achievement question again. What are we going to do when test scores go down and the dropout rate increases? I don’t see the Republican leadership expressing any concern about that. Are they oblivious to it, or are they just hoping really hard that it won’t be quite that bad? The latter is my guess. It’s going to take another lawsuit to force the issue, but who knows how long we’ll refuse to do anything about it and how much damage that will cause until then.