Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Student protests

Source: KatyTimes.com

Last Thursday morning at 11:52 am, I received a call from my 13 year old son. With chants of “Save our Teachers” in the background, he informed me that he was standing in front of his school protesting the firing of teachers from his school and other schools in the district. He did not ditch class, he walked out of school during his lunch hour. I told him I supported his protest as long as he did so respectfully and went back to class after his lunch break was over. He did.

Several local news stations carried this protest as well as others throughout the district. The State of Texas is facing mass budget shortfalls and education will take a heavy hit. Katy ISD announced plans to cut 550 jobs within the district. Of these jobs, 500 teachers were lost to attrition or lay-offs and 50 administrative jobs were cut. If these figures seem lopsided to you, you’re not the only one. But more about that later. The following letter was sent out to all students via email from the Superintendent of Katy ISD following Thursday’s walk-outs:

Dear Students,

Today, some of your peers decided to take a stand to have their voices heard in protest of teacher lay-offs. I understand that many of you are upset over losing great teachers, and I too feel the same frustration. This entire process has been one of the toughest challenges we’ve faced as a school district in recent years. Therefore, I want you – our students – to understand how we got here:

The State of Texas is facing an education budget shortfall of as much as $10 billion over the next two years. This means that school districts all over the state will not receive a significant amount of money. For Katy ISD, we’re estimating a loss of approximately $50 million. However, by Texas law, we cannot reduce teacher pay to save jobs. And, by Texas law, we cannot use funds for new school buildings to pay teachers. This is why we have had to face the difficult task of cutting back on programs and laying-off staff members – both teachers and administrators.

Texas law requires us to notify teachers of their job status at least 45 days before the last day of school. So, even though the state has not announced a final dollar amount that will be cut from our schools, we are forced to make difficult staffing decisions before April 19. This deadline is what drove the announcements this week. These layoffs are necessitated by the projected shortfall in state financial support-not due to job performance. My hope is that the state does not cut as much as is currently projected, allowing us to hire some of these great teachers back.

Our goal is to spread the cuts as much as possible so as to not severely impact the classroom, classroom support, student learning experiences and other services that have made Katy ISD one of the top school districts in our nation.

You are Katy ISD, and I admire you for wanting to have your voice heard – and for caring about our great teachers. We are continuing to work hard to balance this situation, and I ask that you be respectful of your teachers and your principals as this time is very difficult for all of us.

Please stay focused on your academics and finish strong in this last stretch of the 2011 school year.

Sincerely,

Alton Frailey
Superintendent of Schools

Having been in this district for several years, I was unimpressed with the letter as were many students who received it. More protests were carried out the following day, and yet another email was sent out:

Information regarding student protest:

· Students’ voices have been heard and messages have reached the state leaders
· Their point is appreciated and has been made
· Behavior observed/occurring now on behalf of students in not peaceful or focused but disruptive and not safe
· Further disruption of the school day will result in disciplinary action

I applaud the kids for standing up for their teachers. What I don’t appreciate is feeling like our kids are being used as pawns in some power play between the state legislature and the local school superintendent. Based on several news stories and interviews I read and viewed on television, it seems the teachers were approached by administration staff during the school day and told they were getting laid off. They then had the option of completing the rest of the day or going home. The district had substitute teachers on hand if the teacher chose to leave for the day. Many chose to leave, many visibly upset and in tears. I question why the district carried out these layoffs while the children were there to witness them, especially when Friday was an early dismissal day for students and they could have waited until after 12:40 when the kids had left for the day. Of course, the news media had mostly cleared out by then, too.

Katy ISD only spends  49.7% of each dollar on the classroom.  The Administration makes a lot more money than the teachers.  Add this to the fact, that over 80M is sitting in a bank account in the district, and you see just how ludicrous the actions were of this administrator.  There is zero requirement for 80M to be in the reserve funds of the ISD.  Yet, he still wanted to make political points. (Source: /Texas for 56: Katy Schools Suffer As Superintendent Wields Power

Here’s a few statistics via Texas Education Agency.

  • For every public school teacher in Texas, school districts have one non-teaching staff position.
  • State-wide, teachers earn an average of $9,000 a year less than “other professional staff,” $22,000 less than school administrators and $38,000 less than central administration staff.
  • The turnover rate for teachers is about 15%, with almost 38% of teachers having less than 5 years teaching experience.
  • Superintendents on average take home six-figure salaries, with the highest-paid superintendent, Thomas Carroll of Beaumont ISD (19,000 students), earning $346,778 per year – nearly 2 ½ times more than the Texas governor!
  • Superintendents typically enjoy a number of perks, like an expense account, retirement contribution, car and housing allowances, bonuses, and more.

There’s so much more to this mess, but this post is already too long. Thanks for letting me vent.

It seems to me that if we could eliminate a few more admin jobs and stop building these Taj Mahals they call administration buildings, we could afford to put more money back into the classrooms. I understand the need for administrative and support staff, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a t-shirt that said, “If you can read this, thank an administrator”.

End of long winded rant.

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12 Responses to “Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Student protests”

  1. David Rupert April 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Tell us how you really feel! 🙂

    I agree that our kids are really being used in many of these fights. the teachers have legit concerns, but sending notes home, pushing kids in front of cameras and so on really takes the fight to a different level.

    I have a question. What exactly is the need for a school district? Couldnt each state have a centralized admin and just leave it at that, with some staff dispatched to the field?

  2. James Williams April 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    I live in TX, too, and am a former teacher myself, so I know your frustration. It’s a crappy deal in so many ways, and some of it certainly isn’t the state’s fault. With no income tax, they had built school funding on property taxes, with the idea that property values never go down. So when they did go down, it caught everyone off-guard.

    My city (Arlington) also has a reserve fund from oil and gas drilling which they aren’t using, as it’s for emergencies only. Not sure how this doesn’t qualify.

    My niece asked her mom if she could hold a bake sale to save her teacher’s job. If I had been her mom, I would have burst her little bubble and told her that a bake sale cannot possibly save a teacher’s job. But that’s why I’m not a mom. My sister-in-law encouraged her daughter, and the bake sale raised over $1200. It even made the TV news (http://bit.ly/gCWlZ6 — watch for me in the plaid shorts), which didn’t save the teacher’s job, but did raise awareness of the tragic thing that’s going on.

    Kat, I don’t have an answer, but I do trust that most school boards are trying to do the right thing. I, too, wonder why they feel the need to pay superintendents over $300k, but the reality is that if they reduced the super’s pay to, say, 80k, it would, at best, only save a couple of teachers’ jobs. The shortfall is just too big to be overcome in a non-painful way.

    Rant on.

    • katdish April 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

      Thanks for the link, James. Sorry it didn’t save the teacher’s job, but at least it brought attention to the problem and allowed the kids to become involved. That’s really cool.

      Nice shorts! Who says plaid pants are only for the golf course? (Besides me, that is — Snort!)

      • James Williams April 18, 2011 at 7:41 am #

        I hate those shorts. My bought ’em for me. BTW, my daughter is shown clearly at the end of that clip, in glasses with pigtails. She’s a beaut. 😉

        One more serious note: you made a point in here that the kids are being used to make some points. Honestly, they’re being used by all sides. It reminds me that, after the above-mentioned bake sale, a national TV network wanted to have my sis-in-law and niece on one of those Sunday-morning news programs. During the pre-interview, they started asking leading questions, and it became clear that they were trying to this out to be a story about some families against the school board. They were twisting her words, pretty bluntly. (Karen, who commented here, blogged about this incident a couple weeks back). My SIL promptly told them she would not appear on their program. Good for her, but sad that “reporters” on a national news show would twist the truth in order to get ratings. I guess they, like other interested parties, are willing to use kids, as you said, like chess pieces.

        • Marni April 18, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

          Cute shorts and cute daughter James! I live slightly south of you in Midlothian. We have an emergency fund (so I’ve heard) and we aren’t hitting it either. I sure as heck would like to know what exactly qualifies for an emergency, but whatever.

          We aren’t laying of admin’s here either. We are laying off teachers and aides. What kind of single celled organism thinks laying off support staff is a good idea? My daughter is classified as special needs. Her best aide has been let go. So now who is going to help my daughter learn math with her extensive short term memory loss? I suppose I’ll call our Superintindent and see if he can take the Mon-Wed-Fri 8:00am to 9:15 time slot she’s accustomed to.

  3. karenzach April 18, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    You don’t want to get me started. Married to a teacher, who is on the negotiating team for this year’s contract. I think this stinks tho… absolutely no reason ever to hand out notices in this fashion. It’s designed to create chaos.

  4. Simply Darlene April 18, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Indeed, the timing and manner of lay-off notifications showed great disrespect and lacked compassion. When mass lay-offs hit my husband’s pulp mill a couple years ago, managers were notified only the afternoon prior to the mill-wide announcements. Nobody’s jobs were secure and our phone rang non-stop until midnight. He didn’t have any concrete answers but at least he had respect for his staff.

  5. Helen April 18, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    When I was rifted, I was told in the morning, before class. I was not given the option to go home, and told that the principal would tell children in due time, so I should not. I didn’t cry though. Somehow I was able to hold it together. I suppose that is because my mom was ill at the time, and I knew I’d need to stay home with her when she got out of the hospital.
    My homeroom and other students, however, were told about it during the class of another rifted teacher. They came to me with many questions, but I did not feel it would be professional of me to make announcements that should have been made by the principal. The principal was holding a meeting the next week to tell parents there would be staff cuts. I told the students they should ask their parents to ask their questions at the meeting. I was later called out by the principal for it, because all she wanted to do was say “there will be cuts” and did not want to take questions (and she didn’t.) The principal made the announcements at the assembly the last day of school. My students had already figured out though that if I was staying, I would have told them and reassured them (that, and the other teacher pretty much said “Yeah, she’s out too, she just doesn’t want to upset you). The only reassurance I gave them the last few weeks was “God works out all things for the good of those who love Him. We love HIm, right? So then in the long run, it doesn’t matter whether I stay or go, because He will work it out for the good of us all. ”

    My point? The kids are always the ones who suffer the most. I’m for being open and honest and gentle. I wish my principal had been as well.

  6. Jeff April 18, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    This was interesting and well written, but it contained too many statistics to be a rant. It was almost a diplomatic discourse. Still, I can feel the anger, and I would be angry, too. I can’t say this superintendent doesn’t love the students, but i’d say with confidence that he loves himself and his agenda more than he loves students.

    We’re losing teachers up here and have been for years. I wonder what school will be like in 3 1/2 years when Jakob starts kindergarten.

  7. Hazel Moon April 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    We watched a documentary recently on why kids in the USA are not learning. Seems in some states, certain teachers are paid to sit in a special room and play games, read books, or the newspaper, watch TV of what ever, because they are not good teachers. This waste of School money is because of the Teachers Union, who makes these calls for high pay regardless if the teachers can teach or not. I am certain in your town you only have excellent teachers. And I applaud your stand to take down more of the administration jobs. More Government (Unions) only causes more trouble. Teachers should have the option to accept less pay and keep their job. The Substitute teachers who wait in the wings are being paid by someone!! My blog today “Picketing” is about Union workers in the Farm industry, but it applies to all Unions. I was forced to join the Union against my will, and almost quit my job, but my husband convinced me to hang in there until retirement. The union did nothing for me except take my union dues.

  8. Herbie Gookins April 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Rant on!

    I found it quite entertaining!

    And annoying.

    Not you, the way it was handled.

  9. Hazel Moon April 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Sorry about your mother’s tires slashed by the union pickets, when she refused to join the union and crossed the picket lines when they went on strike. They did not care that she was a single mother of 4 at the time managing the stores deli.

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