In an effort to alleviate the pain inflicted by deleting more than 1,100 jobs, Austin School Trustees will consider a proposal tonight that would offer $10,000 lump sum payouts to teachers who resign voluntarily. The money would be provided in lieu of unemployment benefits of up to $10,790 per employee. A similar plan enacted in Dallas has proven popular, but AISD could be hindered by its advance notification of employees whose jobs are up for elimination.
The Austin Independent School District is grappling with an estimated budget shortfall of $94 million dollars; although it could be twice that, depending on how the Texas legislature decides to defund public education to close its own budget gap of up to $27 billion.
Last Monday, AISD school board members were asked to declare a state of financial exigency that provides Superintendent Meria Carstarphen with more powers to eliminate positions and restructure educational programs. The board delivered the declaration in a 7-2 vote, but not before dissenting Trustee Annette Lovoi (At-Large Position 8) questioned whether they should slow down the process.
"If it reduces the number of people that have to be pink slipped, then that's a good thing," Lovoi said from the dias during last Monday's meeting.
But materials supplied to board members by school district staff suggest rejecting that payout proposal, largely because of the potential for unintended consequences.
For example, a Texas Association of School Boards document posted to tonight's board agenda says a "voluntary" resignation might not be considered voluntary if the person was already expecting to lose his or her job. If it wasn't voluntary, the district could still be on the hook for unemployment benefits, even if they paid the teacher $10,000.
While AISD human resources has not finalized a list of people who will lose their jobs, they have notified employees who work in positions that may be eliminated. It's a subtle but important difference, because it could hinder efforts to implement a Dallas-style payouts plan.
As of today, 640 teachers in Dallas ISD have said they will accept the offer to resign voluntarily, according to DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander. They will receive 15 percent of their annual salary in a lump sum payout, up to a maximum of $10,000.
"The actions by these 640 people will save at least 640 teachers in our school district when it comes time to start paring down our budget for next school year," Dahlander said. DISD expects to pay about $6 million to the resigning employees. Getting them off the payroll will save at least $40 million, Dahlander said.
But Dahlander admits the program is a double-edged sword. Forty percent of those leaving DISD have been with the district for more than 30 years. Two-thirds of those leaving have been with DISD for more than 20 years.
"That's not necessarily a good thing because that experience is helpful in the classroom and helpful on campuses, to have teachers who have been there for a while that understand the lay of the land and know what they're doing," Dahlander said.
"We're going to be losing some good people, but either way, we're losing people," he said.