Aledo schools to cut staff, salaries; hold tax rate election

Teachers and other staff members of the Aledo school district will have their salaries cut next year in order for the district to meet a $3.7 million budget shortfall, and some will even lose their jobs.

Trustees met in a special session on Tuesday morning and voted to begin a reduction in force -- targeting which employees are subject to layoffs -- for the 2010-11 school year, according to superintendent Don Daniel.

The board's other option, to declare a state of financial "exigency," or emergency, would have cost more employees and impacted programs in the schools.

Daniel estimated that between 30 and 40 employees would have to be let go from the district's 450 employees that work at its eight campuses and central office. The district is west of Fort Worth and has 4,553 students.

Attrition will open up some positions, Daniel said, and teacher losses will be less than 15.

Across-the-board salary cuts will be 5 percent for administrators, teachers and other professional employees; 3 percent for employees such as certification officers and payroll clerks, and a half percent for para-professionals.

The reductions apply to the employees' base pay scale.

"Our staff was very unselfish, very dedicated to our students and they came forward and took a pay reduction to save programs for our children and minimize the number of their colleagues who would be laid off," Daniel said. "I think that's unparalleled at this time."

Tax ratification

It has been an ongoing process throughout the school year, Daniel said.

He has been discussing it with staff and has visited every district building twice to get a feel of the staff's preferences between heavier job reductions or across-the-board salary cuts.

The board meets again on March 23rd to approve the cuts and shortly after that Daniel will begin notifying those who will lose their jobs and discussing their options with them.

There will be one chance to head off the cuts, and that will rest with Aledo voters, Daniel said.

The district will hold another tax ratification election in the fall, structured the same as an election that failed to pass last year.

Once again, residents would not see their property tax rates increase even if the election passes.

Why? The effect of the election would be to transfer 13 cents of tax money from the debt service fund to the maintenance and operating fund that pays salaries and other day-to-day district operating costs. The overall tax rate would stay the same while the allocation of funds changes.

Since the district must have a 2010-11 budget prepared by August 20th, Daniel said, two budget options will be ready pending the election outcome.

One will be with the payroll reductions, the other will be eliminating the reductions if the rollback passes.

"Last time we had 30 percent more voters without children in the district than those who had children," Daniel said. "We feel that made the difference last year."

A better informational campaign and show of parents at the polls could change the outcome this time, Daniel said.

Budget review

Meanwhile, the reductions are in place.

"We are working with the administration to make this as painless as possible," said Larry Shaw of the United Educators Association (UEA). "They do have a money problem, and they've got to address that shortage."

The UEA has about 170 members working in the Aledo district, and the group had a meeting scheduled with them Thursday to look at the budget crisis.

"You've got to step back and take personalities out of it and actually look at cutting within programs," Shaw said of the administration's task. "Many districts right now are facing the same crisis."

The layoffs will be the first that Daniel has had to carry out during his 11 years as Aledo principal.

"We've absorbed staff members, 167 last year," said Daniel, "but we've never had to tell good people doing good things for the district that they won't have a job this year."

SHIRLEY JINKINS, 817-390-7657