• Budget Banter Continues

    During a recent budget press conference session in Austin, school districts were held out by some legislators as the responsible party for making public education funding recommendations, emphasizing that budget cuts were inevitable but that lawmakers did not want to see teachers lose their jobs.

    Several senators were holding to the theme that districts must prioritize their money and protect the classroom. They said they believed cuts could be made to non-teaching positions and intimated that blame for any cuts to teaching positions should be laid at the feet of district leaders, not the Legislature.

    Senator Florence Shapiro said, “We're working to give local school districts the necessary tools to preserve teaching jobs and the great teachers that we have in the state of Texas. Local school district officials are in the process of making some very difficult and painful budget decisions. Leadership is about making choices. We strongly urge them not to be shortsighted by sacrificing the classroom in favor of bureaucratic education establishment.”

    The senator pointed to numbers from the Legislative Budget Board that put the salary figure for non-teaching positions in Texas public school districts at $9 billion and added, “If we merely cut 10 percent of those non-classroom positions we could create savings of almost $2 billion in a biennium.”

    Information worth noting but not mentioned during the press conference:

    1. The majority of school districts have been cutting those non-teaching positions for the past five years, since the Legislature “fixed” the school finance system, freezing most districts (including Coppell ISD) at 2005-06 funding level resulting in a structural budget deficit.
    2. The “bureaucratic education establishment” discussed is largely made up of the people who drive Texas children to school every day on buses, serve them breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, answer the phone when a parent calls, maintain clean classrooms and buildings, or take a child's temperature when they're sick.
    3. That such draconian cuts to services could make no difference in the classroom is a myth. If there were not enough people to perform those necessary jobs, then who will do it? Teachers? How will that impact their effectiveness as educators? Most importantly, how will it affect children?
    4. Statistics on non-teaching positions, such as the fact that statewide, central administrators make up only one percent of school employees and that campus administrators make up only another three percent was also not mentioned. Or that while teachers make up fifty percent of Texas school districts' work force, their salaries account for sixty five percent of all salaries in a district's budget. Suggesting that school districts can make the cuts the Legislature is poised to force on them without affecting teachers is preposterous.

    Other members of the press conference who echoed Senator Shapiro's theme included: Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Austin), Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), and Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls).

    To watch the approximately 20-minute-long press conference, visit the Senate's website at: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/ and click on Press Conference: Senator Florence Shapiro.

    Note: A special thanks to the government relations division of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) at http://www.tasanet.org/ for the Capitol Watch Alert information provided.