Scott Ball / Rivard Report
At a loud and emotional board meeting Monday night, the San Antonio Independent School District finalized layoffs for 132 teachers and 31 campus and central office administrators, part of an effort to close a $31 million budget gap.
Last week, district officials met with teachers designated for layoffs and offered them the opportunity to resign instead of being terminated.
Sixty-three teachers were selected for layoffs, and an additional 69 teachers with probationary, one-year contracts did not have their contracts renewed for the next year. An additional 31 administrators had their positions eliminated.
As more than a hundred teachers packed the board meeting room, many holding signs and chanting loudly, trustees voted to terminate employees who did not submit resignations – 25 teachers, one administrator, and one student engagement facilitator.
Since March, trustees have struggled to deal with a $31 million budget deficit for the 2018-19 school year, caused largely by an 1,800-student decrease in enrollment. While trustees explored other options to reduce the budget gap, they said there was no combination of cuts that would reduce spending enough to prevent teacher layoffs.
The district projects it will save $11.3 million from teacher layoffs and an additional $6.7 million from attrition.
"This was by far probably the toughest decisions we have made," Superintendent Pedro Martinez said, referring to his three-year tenure with SAISD. "I don’t think I’ve slept the last two weeks."
Martinez said the district finished evaluations for each of its more than 3,360 teachers on April 30, then used the results to determine who would be laid off. Only this past year's evaluations were used to determine who would be terminated.
Jill Rhodes-Pruin, SAISD's director of educator quality, said she oversaw the evaluation process by averaging results of the teacher evaluations, which are scored across 16 categories. The district then weighted the different categories three different ways and averaged out scores to ensure that no teacher with an outlier score on one category was included in the layoffs.
Evaluations were based on a 45-minute teaching observation scheduled in advance, "walk throughs" or short observations throughout the year, and progress made on goals set at the beginning of the school year. Rhodes-Pruin emphasized that scoring was based on cumulative data from the 2017-18 school year, not just the 45-minute observation.
Teachers being terminated will have access to résumé workshops, but will not receive a severance package, SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said.
Members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel rallied before the meeting Monday, denouncing the board and Martinez for what they perceived as a lack of transparency in the layoff process.
More than 60 teachers and parents signed up to speak in the public comment portion of the meeting. Most spoke against the layoffs, with some crying and others speaking longer than their allotted time. At times, district police officers approached the podium to take the microphone away from speakers who had exceeded their one-minute time limit.
"I dreaded coming into work this morning," said one tearful teacher whose position had been eliminated.
Many told the trustees that they should be worried come election time.
After all the speakers had their time at the podium, the room erupted in chants calling for the district to terminate Martinez. "RIF Pedro!" teachers yelled. RIF is short for reduction in force, which is the technical term for layoffs.
And as board members took their initial unanimous vote to approve the process, teachers responded with a booming cries of "Nay!"
When trustees first learned they might have to lay off teachers to cope with the budget shortfall, they said that they hoped the number would be reduced by attrition. Most teachers resign or indicate plans to leave the district during May and June, SAISD's Chief Financial Officer Larry Garza said.
Last year, 100 teachers gave notice during the month of May that they intended to resign. This year, only 37 have submitted resignations. Garza said he believes that SAISD's attrition numbers were affected by several nearby districts also facing budget problems, thereby limiting open positions elsewhere.
Should attrition continue at a higher rate than expected and result in job vacancies in departments in which teachers were laid off, Martinez said the district would welcome terminated teachers to apply for the vacancies.
When the district first began looking into ways to cut the budget, Martinez said that he discovered the district was overstaffed by 255 teachers, mainly at the Pre-K and elementary level and in core subject areas in grades six through eight. After layoffs and some attrition, Martinez said the district will still be overstaffed by 108 teachers.
Though the district has an abundance of teachers in some areas, it will continue to hire in other areas where it is understaffed: high school core subjects, special education, bilingual, career and technical education, and foreign languages, Martinez said.
If the district remains overstaffed and if enrollment continues to decline, as SAISD officials expect for next year, trustees may face a similar budget quandary a year from now.
Martinez said that he projects an additional 800 students will leave the district before the next school year. He attributed the enrollment loss to the growth of charter schools within SAISD boundaries.