FORT WORTH -- Hundreds of Timber Creek High School students staged a peaceful protest Monday morning -- and later marched to the Keller Education Center -- to show support for teachers who recently received termination notices due to budget cuts.
Students staged a sit-in outside the front door, chanting "Save our teachers!" as a few students used a megaphone to address their classmates.
"There isn't any disrespect going on, but we really want to let everyone know that we care about our teachers," said Cameron Steele, a junior at Timber Creek, a Keller district school.
Sophomores Rachel Dykes and Colby Niblette said they participated because teachers don't deserve to lose their jobs.
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"I think it's important that our teachers don't get fired, especially the good teachers," Dykes said.
Niblette said he wanted to rally around Kyle Sammons, a U.S. history teacher and coach who received a termination notice. He said Sammons gave freely of his time to students, especially in helping with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Sammons spoke to the students and invited them to go into the school auditorium to talk about their concerns.
Once there, about 500 students listened to Principal Todd Tunnell, who said the budget crisis is "a problem that is bigger than Timber Creek or Keller ISD."
"I'm very grateful for your passion and concern for your teachers," Tunnell said.
He said the school had to lose 17 teachers, including Sammons, who is an assistant coach for football and wrestling.
"There is a chance we can get these teachers back," Tunnell said.
Because of the state funding shortfall, district officials project a $38 million deficit for the 2011-12 school year. Last week, school board members called a tax ratification election for June 18, when voters will be asked to approve a 13-cent property tax increase.
About 120 teachers on probationary contracts received notice last week that their contracts would be terminated. District officials have said they expect to hire back about 75 percent of them. But if the tax increase does not pass, those teachers would likely be laid off again, officials have said.
Tunnell urged students to raise awareness about the budget crisis and encourage community members to vote in the tax election. He also asked them to do well in school as part of the proof that their teachers are effective and needed.
While a few teens spoke in the auditorium, Tunnell asked many to submit their questions in writing and notify him of their willingness to help.
Tunnell then asked the students to go to class, but many who had made T-shirts and signs and worked to arrange the protest did not give up that easily.
About 200 left campus and headed to the Keller Education Center. While some students drove and others caught rides with parents, most walked the four miles. They met for about 30 minutes with Superintendent James Veitenheimer.
Veitenheimer said he told students that the budget crisis could be resolved only at the state level. He also lauded them for their concern.
"I appreciate what it was they felt," he said. "It's great kids will stand up for their teachers."
District officials made a bus available for students to return to Timber Creek, but some took the rest of the day off. Officials said they were still deciding how the absences would be handled.