AUSTIN -- Teachers faced with losing their jobs because of proposed state cuts would be given more time to challenge the dismissal under legislation filed Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, stressed that the legislation is a first step in efforts to combat an education funding crisis that could force the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and school district employees.
"This is not a silver bullet," Shapiro said. "This is a piece of a very large set of items that we are going to have to work on."
Draft state budgets introduced in the House and Senate call for up to $9.8 billion in education cuts, forcing school districts to notify personnel that they will have to implement layoffs. Fort Worth school officials are still trying to determine the impact but have warned that nearly 1,000 teaching jobs could be in jeopardy over the next two years.
Districts are required to notify teachers at least 45 days before the last day of school about plans to end their contracts. Teachers have 15 days to request a hearing in an attempt to keep their jobs. Senate Bill 912 would give them 30 days to request one, allowing them time to assess their future, the senators said.
Besides Shapiro and Davis, Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, are also co-authors of the bill.
Davis said the extended time would enable districts to hire back endangered teachers if state budget conditions "became more rosy than we're looking at right now."
She said teachers "are very vulnerable" and acknowledged that the legislation introduced Thursday "is only a temporary solution."
Shapiro's committee has been conducting hearings to explore ways to soften the magnitude of the cuts. Teacher groups are advocating drawing money from the state's rainy-day fund, among other measures, and Shapiro said Thursday that she would support using at least some funds from the reserves. The fund is expected to have $9.4 billion by the end of the 2012-13 biennium.
"I believe we will go into the rainy-day fund -- absolutely," Shapiro said.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294