Austin ISD rehiring some teachers

A little bit of good news.

The Austin school board voted Monday to abandon plans to expand class sizes to save money, reverting to the ideal student-teacher ratio of 22-to-1 for classes in kindergarten through the fourth grade and prompting a need to hire dozens of teachers.

The move, which will cost the district $2.5 million, comes about seven months after trustees approved raising the staffing formula guidelines to 24-to-1 as part of an effort to cut expenses.

Anticipating drastic state cuts and possible changes to state rules on the 22-1 classroom cap, district administrators had recommended the larger classes for the 2011-12 school year, saying they would save the district $9.8 million.

Austin district officials cut about 485 campus positions under the change in staffing formulas.

The state Legislature, however, did not approve raising the class-size cap, though state officials did make it easier for districts to get class-size waivers if needed.

The staffing formula changes cleared the way for the Austin district to cut 1,153 positions overall.

As of late last week, 273 laid-off teachers had been rehired, and 125 vacant teaching positions remained, said Michael Houser, the district’s chief human resources officer.

Monday’s vote means Austin will hire an additional 35 teachers, Houser said. He added that those hires would happen as-needed once the school year starts.

A lot of school districts, including HISD, made decisions based on the initial House budget, which would have cut public education by about twice as much as the final bill. Many of them have scaled back their cuts, but they were still left with a lot of them, and they will likely need to make more for the 2012-13 academic year, as some of the changes in the funding formula were backloaded. The Trib reminds us of the big picture.

Though legislators encouraged administrators to keep as much money as possible in classrooms, the majority of public education dollars are spent on personnel — meaning job cuts can’t be avoided. During the legislative session, The Associated Press reported that up to 100,000 of the state’s 330,000 teachers might lose their positions. Officials at the Texas State Teachers Association estimate that about 12,000 teachers have lost their jobs so far, and they warn more teachers could be laid off in the second year of budget cuts. The Austin Independent School District has already given pink slips to nearly 500 employees.

Not all districts have been forced to cut staff. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD spokeswoman Kelli Durham says her district has managed to maintain current teaching positions through retirement and attrition, and by opting to leave more than 400 positions vacant. Since the Legislature went into overtime last session, some districts (like this one in Katy) have figured their cuts will not be as severe as anticipated, and they are re-hiring some laid off teachers.

Cy-Fair may have avoided layoffs, but many of those retirements still represent people who aren’t working but could be, and those vacant positions are a reminder that the job market for teachers is brutal. The fact that the situation isn’t as bad as the apocalyptic scenario that was envisioned when the House budget got passed – and remember, every single Republican in the House voted for that budget and its $8 billion in cuts to public education – doesn’t mean that it isn’t bad.

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