FORT WORTH -- School trustees voted 5-4 Tuesday night to turn down a request from administrators that would have paved the way for employee layoffs.
Trustees Christene Moss, Juan Rangel, T.A. Sims, Ann Sutherland and Carlos Vasquez voted against the motion. They indicated that they hope that enough employees will retire or resign so layoffs can be avoided.
The board was asked to declare a "reduction in force" and to identify areas that could be affected. The action is required by law.
"I support [the reduction-in-force motion], but I don't want to do that tonight," Sims said.
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In a separate vote, trustees approved raising the incentive for nonteaching employees with degrees to resign or retire and to notify the district of those plans by March 23.
Chief Financial Officer Hank Johnson said the district needs to eliminate about 350 positions.
Trustees agreed to a proposal to pay a $5,000 bonus to the first 100 nonteaching, degreed professionals who give notice by March 23. Officials announced this week that the first 600 teachers will also receive that amount.
Johnson said that if all employees who are eligible to retire this year do so -- about 1,200 employees -- then the district would not need layoffs. However, he has noted that fewer employees are retiring because of the unstable economy.
Those who would have fallen under the reduction-in-force resolution would have been probationary or term-contract employees, those relatively new to the district.
Some trustees said they hesitated to approve the motion because they want more detail about which positions would be cut.
But Superintendent Melody Johnson said the district won't know that until they know who is retiring or resigning.
"We don't know who they are," she said. The list of specific people to be notified that they'll be cut, if necessary, will be before the board on April 12, when the reduction-in-force motion will be back on the agenda. Administrators said they are required to notify certain employees about layoffs by April 15.
In other business, about a dozen students and alumni urged trustees not to cut Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college-prep program in middle and high schools that gives students additional support by offering tutors, mentors, guidance on study habits and help with college admissions.
Alfredo Fernandez, a senior at Trimble Tech High School, said he was the youngest of six in an immigrant family that had no higher hopes for him than completing high school. By middle school, he was drinking, getting into fights and skipping school.
Then in seventh grade he began the AVID program. His teacher expected more for him and supported him with other teachers who wrote him off, Fernandez said.
"The first day she saw me, she believed in me," he said. That made him believe in himself, and he started to go to school more and earn better grades. "I can say AVID was a big turning point in my life."
Officials said the program costs about $2 million to operate. Melody Johnson said AVID would be discussed in more detail in April.
Administrators also proposed locations for the Center for New Lives, a school for pregnant and parenting teens. It could be moved to Eastern Hills High School or to the Leonard 6th Grade Center building, which will house the Middle Level Learning Center alternative school next year when Leonard closes.
Trustees plan to vote on a site March 22, with several indicating that they favor Eastern Hills.
Officials need to find a new home for the school as its current lease was not renewed.
Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700