Professional staff receives notice; more cuts planned
By Elsa Maxey
About another five percent reduction in the Fort Bend Independent School District’s workforce has taken place in an attempt to help it with next year’s budget. The budget will be reduced by the state’s shortchanging allotment to FBISD as a result of its own budget woes and that reduction amount, estimated to range between $35 to $74 million, is hopefully more likely $40 million, according to Tracy Hoke, FBISD’s Chief Financial Officer.
On Monday, a total of 483 jobs were announced for elimination during a special school board meeting. Of the 483, 68 employees with professional positions will soon find out, if they haven’t already, that they will be losing their jobs. Fourteen of them are in temporary positions and another 14 are those in a probationary status category, which means they are not eligible for a resignation incentive package. The remaining number of employees, however, will qualify for it.
Also, those voluntarily resigning will not be eligible for discharge hearings before the board, and that concerned at least one audience member, an attorney attending the board meeting, who said that is how the school district would skirt not having to pay for unemployment benefits. Human Resources Director Rhonda McWilliams, who confirmed it, said that since the termination would be voluntary and accompanied by an incentive package, a hearing would essentially be forfeited.
District officials said cutting the 68 jobs will save them $4.1 million. Together with the other eliminated jobs, accounting for over 400 positions due to attrition and to those opting for voluntary resignations with a 10 percent base salary incentive package after the board approved it on March 7, McWilliams said district will be saving $30 million with the elimination of the 483 positions. Board member Marilyn Glover said they tried to show as much caring as a board noting that the resignation incentive package was generous in comparison to other districts which only offered $500.
Pink slips were handed out on Friday, reports the Fort Bend Employee Federation, which said the district forced critical area educators in science, math, languages and special education with long time experience.
FBISD board member Laurie Caldwell said during the board meeting that she knows what it feels like. A math teacher in another school district, reportedly in Alief, she was informed that her position was being terminated, also because of budget cuts.
The school board said it would have preferred not to cut teachers, and Daniel Menendez said that state law mandates that teachers not being retained the following year must know with at least 45 days remaining in the current school year. According to FBISD, this is just the beginning of budget cuts and it will later be dealing with administrative cuts, which are not time sensitive as is the case with teaching positions. Superintendent Dr. Timothy Jenney said the cuts would be about seven to seven plus percent cuts in administration and for everyone, and Tier One was the first $30 million cut.
Before the vote, the board of trustees along with Dr. Jenney and other administrative staff met in a closed, executive session for an hour and a half as a roomful of about 50, in addition to school district staff waited to hear about the staff cuts and the amendment to the resignation incentive program. Among the audience were about 25 students from Thurgood Marshall High School, who said their school was subjected to the highest number of teacher cuts and they were in attendance at the meeting to protest it.
Then came a 5 to 2 vote, with Daniel Menendez and Jim Babb voting against the measure that determined the fate of the 68. “This, of course, is a sad and difficult day and a decision that we have had to come to,” said board president Sonal Bhuchar.
Other board action approved on Monday included the non-renewal of term employment contracts, the termination of probationary employment contracts and rescinding all prior certificates of intent and/or offers of conditional employment.