Malcolm Turner, 64, is the new principal at West Elementary School in the Arlington school district. But the longtime school administrator is hardly an educational rookie.
Because of state budget cuts, Turner's job as the district's director of student services was eliminated last spring, and the 36-year veteran educator found himself out of a job.
"It's not so much what happens to you that counts, but what you do with it," Turner said.
He decided to return to the classroom, joining thousands of Texas school administrators, teachers, counselors, librarians and paraprofessionals who have had to change career paths and take pay cuts to remain employed.
About $4 billion in education funding was cut from the state budget last year, and the next round of cuts could be even deeper.
Additionally, $1.5 billion in grant money was cut from educational support programs that help kindergartners, struggling students and at-risk teens.
Locally, the Arlington and Keller districts have been especially hard-hit by staff reductions.
In Keller, 35 administrative positions were cut, but 10 of those employees found other jobs within the district. Of the 123 probationary teachers cut, 97 were rehired.
Turner was among 30 central administrators cut in Arlington, seven of whom eventually found other positions within the district.
Arlington officials planned to cut 201 teaching positions through attrition, but ended up losing 163.5 of those. Nearly $2 million was added back to the budget to fund the other 37.5 teaching jobs.
"It's certainly not unique to Fort Worth; it's happening statewide," said Jenny Caputo, Texas Association of School Administrators spokeswoman. "It's a reflection of the budget cuts school districts are dealing with. Not only is it an exodus from central office to campus, but even in campus administration. People who had a specialty but not a classroom, those folks are going back to teaching, and their administrative positions are being eliminated."
Moak, Casey and Associates, an Austin-based legislative research firm that tracks Texas school finance and accountability issues, estimates that Texas districts lost 32,000 jobs last year. About 12,000 of those were classroom teachers, and the rest were support staff, administrators and specialists.
"My attitude never turned negative. It's business, not personal," Turner said his layoff and subsequent job hunt. "You start looking at what your best attributes are, and how to sell them."
Turner said he went to workshops, applied for positions and had interviews.
Mellie Joiner had taught for 21 years before joining the Keller district as an administrator five years ago, directing a dyslexia program that grew from 26 students to more than 200.
Then came the budget ax. Her job as an administrator was eliminated, but she was rehired as a dyslexia specialist and now works in the classroom.
"When my position was cut, I was asked to stay on and be a part of the program I helped to create," Joiner said. "That helped with the transition. ...
"The good thing is you're back to doing what you were doing in the first place. Now I get to be with the kids."
Turner said that while returning to the classroom is rewarding, it hasn't always been easy.
"There's a learning curve, and a whole lot of cross training," Turner said. "It's a transitional period, and there was also a little bit of anxiety because I had to learn new educational trends."
Turner was Arlington's personnel director in 1992, when budget problems forced the district to lay off. He said that experience helped him prepare for his turn.
"I've sat on the other side of this table and had to tell people that their positions would be eliminated," Turner said. "It's not a pleasant experience."
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657