The Austin teachers' association Education Austin is planning to stage a rally tonight outside Austin Independent School District headquarters. The local group, representing about 4,000 teachers and school staff, wants the Austin ISD school board to maintain full-day pre-kindergarten and not reduce planning time for high school teachers.
KUT’s Ben Philpott spoke with Rae Nwosu, co-president of Education Austin.
Ben Philpott: First of all, there are a handful of recommendations that you are hoping are not picked up by the board, is that right?
Rae Nwosu: Yes, that’s right. We know the board has not made any decisions and won’t be voting tonight, but what we want to do is be on the forefront and put a couple of things on the table, to not consider even putting those things out there.
One is a way to fund pre-kindergarten, which was funded for the last couple years from federal money that was given to the district. That federal money is running out at the end of the school year. And we’re not sure we’re going to get more money to fund that. We doubt is going to happen because of the budget crisis across the country. So we’re asking the board to continue looking at the budget and find other ways to fund full day pre-K. We had half-day pre-K [funding from the state], and the federal money was funding the other half. We need the board to continue funding full-day pre-K.
The other thing we are asking the board not to consider in its budget talks is taking away the planning period for secondary teachers. Those teachers actually use that time to plan for their students adequately. For example, if I’m a language arts teacher, and I’m teaching three different language arts classes, one of those periods I use to plan with my team. And the other period I use for my class, my lessons, grading papers, getting grades in and things like that, basically my lesson plan for my classes. I’m not taking one lesson and using it across the board. Losing a planning period would make it really difficult to do my job as a teacher adequately if I lost that.
Philpott: These are both recommendations from the Efficiency Study. Are there enough recommendations left over after taking these off the table, for the district to still balance the budget?
Nwosu: Yes. There are a couple of things also that the administration is looking at. I really believe that [AISD Superintendent Meria] Carstarphen wants to fund pre-K, and I know that they know the importance of it, as well as the board. It’s a matter of finding the funding.
As for the secondary planning period, it was a part of the Efficiency Study. Education Austin last year went to the administration and gave a list of budget recommendations and savings. We have not done that this year, though we are planning to this December. There are lots of things that can be looked at.
We’re asking that the district look at some programs. Principals are meeting with Dr. Carstarphen and her administration, looking at programs and other ways we can save. The two items we are talking about will impact the student immediately. When you talk about half-day pre-K, that strictly touches a student, as well as teaching and learning for secondary teachers that may lose their second planning period.
Today, what our plans are for this rally is just to inform the Board of Trustees the importance of these two items, and ask them to take these off the table and not consider them, period.
Philpott: What kind of feeling do you get from teachers in town knowing how serious it appears budget problems with the state may be, and the kind of cuts that may come during the state legislative session?
Nwosu: I think the feeling everyone across the state is that things are not good. It’s not looking good for schools across Texas. The schools have been put on the back burner so we can fund other things. Teachers are starting to worry about what’s going to happen if we are not going to get additional funding, to find a way to save within this district in a way that is not going to impact the teaching and learning of the students of Austin.
Remember, teachers are parents as well. We’re talking about their children, as well as everyone else’s in the district. We know that the district is going to have to make some tough choices over the next couple of years, not just this next year. Teachers feel like we should impact the students as little as possible, to do other things before we impact our children.