ARLINGTON -- Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to declare a "financial emergency," clearing the way for potential layoffs to help address an estimated $35 million reduction in state funding next year.
Trustees said the measure gives Superintendent Jerry McCullough "flexibility" to determine where job cuts are most needed and to come back with recommendations.
Any layoffs would be in addition to the 390 job cuts that McCullough announced last month as part of an initial $15.3 million budget-cutting round. Those employees have been notified already, officials said.
State law requires districts to declare a financial emergency before they can lay off contracted employees.
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The district plans to notify the next round of employees by April 18, the date that their contracts are automatically renewed. Ending contracts after that date would allow those employees -- mostly teachers, administrators and professional instruction-support staff -- to request expensive hearings to challenge their terminations.
"Doing this move right now gives us a level of protection that is needed at this point," said Trustee John Hibbs. "Every one of us considers this a gut-wrenching situation."
The district had already projected a $13.3 million budget deficit, in addition to the $35 million it could lose in state funding. In recent weeks, the district has added about $4 million in budget cuts for a total of $19.2 million, Powell said.
Trustees again lashed out at the Legislature, which is considering cutting $10 billion from the Texas Education Agency's revenue request.
Board member Wayne Ogle said the district "has a gun held to our head."
Board Vice President Peter Baron said, "I, too, think the government has done us a disservice by dropping this entire problem on the local school districts."
The board again talked briefly about a tax ratification election, which could generate up to $33 million next year. But June would be the soonest an election could be called. If it failed, the district would have to reach deep in to its reserve fund to cover costs, officials said.
In Fort Worth, the school board on Tuesday voted 5-4 to reject a resolution for a "reduction in force" to pave the way for layoffs. Some trustees said they hope that enough employees retire or resign so that layoffs won't be needed.
The Fort Worth board also voted to raise the incentive to $5,000 for the first 100 nonteaching employees with degrees who notify the district by March 23 that they plan to resign or retire.
The Arlington school board also considered a $2,500 incentive last week but decided against it.
Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association, urged the Arlington board to consider using attrition rather than layoffs to eliminate jobs. He said it could take two years, possibly less, but would be less disruptive to the district.
He also renewed his pleas for the district to dip into its $70 million reserve fund and its $20 million fund of gas-lease revenues to offset some of the funding losses. District officials said they are cautious about using the reserve fund because they don't want it to fall below state-recommended levels.
"We hope that when we return in the fall, there will have been few if any layoffs," Shaw said. "Failing that, this will probably be a long, hot summer for all of us."