FORT WORTH -- Local teachers and school administrators sent an impassioned message to Austin on Wednesday, asking legislators to save jobs and education programs.
About 100 educators from across North Texas met with state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, and representatives of other area legislators in a meeting sponsored by the local nonprofit Score a Goal in the Classroom.
Statewide, public education is facing up to $9.8 billion in cuts as the state struggles with a shortfall of up to $27 billion for the next two years. Area districts expect their funding to be reduced by millions.
"Everyone says not to panic, but everyone in this room is panicking," Burleson Superintendent Richard Crummel said. Burleson officials have no choice but to cut teachers because an election to increase school taxes there failed by eight votes recently, he said.
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Zedler said school funding cuts will not be as bad as originally recommended. He said he supported legislation that would give districts more time to renew teachers' contracts until they had a better idea of their funding levels.
Zedler also said the state must look at ways to be more efficient.
"We can look at this as we're going to fall off a cliff or look at this as a real opportunity," Zedler said.
Charles Boswell, district director for state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said Davis was working on a bill that would allow local districts to raise their tax rates a little without calling an election.
Some educators urged the panel to use the state's rainy-day fund -- estimated to be $9.4 billion at the end of the 2012-13 biennium -- to help save jobs and to work on legislation that would allow districts to offer furloughs and pay cuts.
A number of Arlington teachers spoke out, some who have already been told they will not have a job if trustees approve a plan to cancel probationary teachers' contracts.
Catherine Powers said she left a lucrative job in the hotel industry. Now Powers, who was Score a Goal in the Classroom's new teacher of the year last year, said she and the other special-education teachers at Bailey Junior High are all on probationary contracts.
"Had I known that this was going to happen, I still would have chosen to do this," she said, crying. "I just need you to know who you're doing this to."
Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700