1/28/2009

Ominous Signs of the Times



GFT generally avoids topics of politics, current events or hard news. I leave it to my readers to "read between the lines" to determine my political leanings and other important barometers of worth. But an article caught my eye in the Dallas Morning News this morning - about impending layoffs in Plano ISD, said to be necessary to eliminate budget shortfalls, along with the requisite assurances that teachers would not be among them. (It is true that GFT is a teacher, so this topic is naturally one of interest, though I do not work for any of the school districts mentioned here.)


Citizens of the DFW metroplex have seen how reliable these assurances are, in the previous situation last fall where Dallas ISD announced that it was laying off several hundred teachers to avoid similar budget shortfalls. Hundreds of teachers were sent home, then months later, miraculously, new funds appeared in the budget, and new teachers were hired. Mirabile dictu !! (Latin for "marvelous to speak of ", like saying " it's a miracle ! ") . Was this truly a budgetary issue? Was there really some other agenda , underneath the surface? Inquiring minds want to know.....Why is there not some media watchdog analyzing which teachers were laid off, and their corresponding job performance reviews or TAKS results of their students or other important factors ? I once worked for a school district that announced a "reduction in staff for budgetary reasons" and it turned out, after a hellish year of stress and multiple job reviews and staff meetings with dire threats to all the workers, that the decision of who to fire and who to keep was based on whether administration deemed you were using too much of your health benefits, esp insurance, in terms of being seriously ill. Those with recent medical procedures or too many doctors visits were terrorized until they left voluntarily, or left go if they did not. Illegal you say ? Try arguing that your suddenly recent poor performance review is illegitimate if you've just had open heart surgery and aren't yet feeling snappy enough to fight it.


Why do school districts have budget shortfalls in the first place ? Shouldn't they have some reserves to handle short term cost over-runs ? Last fall, Dallas ISD argued that the high cost of fuel to run school buses and other transportation costs was the reason for the unanticipated expenditures. Of course we now know, with hindsight, that the retail price of gas dropped in mid-fall and went to historic lows, where (at least in Texas) it has hovered ever since. Would not high transportation costs incurred from Aug- Sept have been more than offset by low costs from Oct onward, in terms of an overall yearly budget ? Who knows where the truth of that situation really lies.


The Plano ISD announcement in today's paper is far more ominous, however. Citizens of the metroplex are used to the helter-skelter behaviors of Dallas ISD. Seems like they are always in the news for outlandish corporate spending, hiring and firing superintendents, always something wacky going on. Plano ISD, however, is not. It is the rock, the beacon of light, the golden standard against which other school districts and teaching staff measure themselves in terms of TAKS scores, teacher salaries, educational standards - you name it. We expect the best of Plano ISD, and hope to emulate them if we can. So to hear that their school district is having budgetary concerns is like the canary in the coal mine.......if they are having difficulties, can other school districts be far behind ?


Those of us in education have long known we will never get rich. We hope to serve mankind, earn enough to be comfortable, and have a steady, reliable job that is fairly recession proof. My teacher friends and I have sat through this hideous recession, thus far, keeping our fingers crossed for friends and relatives in other fields, and felt that our own jobs were secure. This new uncertainty is not going to encourage the remaining few of us with steady paychecks to start spending, and jump start the economy, any time soon.



Here is the news story :



Plano teachers won't lose jobs in district layoffs
09:08 PM CST on Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By MATTHEW HAAG / The Dallas Morning Newsmhaag@dallasnews.com
Several Plano school employees will lose their jobs under a plan to reduce the district's multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
School board members approved layoffs and other personnel actions estimated to save Plano ISD $1.5 million.
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More Plano news and resources
Targeted are employees in two departments: elementary academic services and library/media services.
No teachers would be let go under the plan, the district said.
"Like everyone else in this country, the district is tightening its belts to balance its budget," board member Mary Beth King said.
Other board members declined comment, deferring all questions to board president Skip Jenkins, who did not return a phone call or e-mail message seeking comment Tuesday.
The plan also calls for several central office positions to go unfilled.
Plano ISD hasn't revealed the number of people to be cut or the number and types of positions that would remain empty.
The district projects it will save $1.05 million through the layoffs and $440,000 by keeping jobs vacant, said Karla Oliver, a Plano ISD administrator.
Plano ISD last implemented cutbacks during the 2003-2004 school year, when it eliminated hundreds of jobs through early-retirement incentives and contract terminations.
The district is taking other actions to reduce its $14 million budget deficit. The district shaved about $500,000 by implementing energy-efficiency measures and it benefited from the drop in gasoline prices, said Richard Matkin, the district's associate superintendent for business services.
Plano ISD and other area school districts have asked state representatives to approve additional money for public schools. But they expect little, if any, extra state funding.
"We have to see if the Legislature is going to come up with additional money," Mr. Matkin said. "I'm not sure how many years people can absorb deficit budgets."

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