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390 job cuts recommended for Arlington school district

ARLINGTON -- School Superintendent Jerry McCullough on Thursday recommended cutting $15.3 million and 390 jobs -- about 5 percent of the district's work force -- from next year's budget if the state sticks to its plan to slash education funding.

That would include cutting 5 percent across the board from departmental budgets, eliminating the departments of student affairs and drug-free schools, requiring teachers to take on an additional class period and reducing district contributions to employee healthcare plans.

McCullough, who outlined the reductions to the school board, warned that more cuts would be necessary to address the potential $35 million reduction in state funding to the district.

Officials said they hope that most employees who lose jobs could be placed in other district positions.

The school district hires several hundred employees a year.

The district already has projected a $13.3 million budget deficit by the end of fiscal 2010-11, amounting to a total $48 million shortfall facing the district for 2011-12.

"It saddens me to make this report," McCullough said, again urging residents to lobby the Legislature for relief. "I never got an answer from the Legislature on how these huge reductions were going to make Texas a better state."

The state has proposed cutting $10 billion in education funding as it grapples with a budget deficit that could exceed $25 billion.

McCullough urged the state to tap its rainy-day fund -- about $9.4 billion in oil and gas production tax revenues -- to ease budget pressures.

Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association, agreed with McCullough but also called the request "kind of hypocritical" because the district has other significant resources it could use: a $71 million reserve fund, a $18.3 million gas-lease fund and about $20 million remaining from a 1999 bond election, which can be used only for capital projects.

After the meeting, McCullough said using those funds would not fix the ongoing problem of budget expenses exceeding revenues.

"It’s one-time money," McCullough said. "Once it’s gone, it’s gone."

Asked about calling an election to raise taxes, McCullough said raising the operations tax rate by 13 cents to the maximum $1.17 per $100 of property value would generate about $33 million a year. That would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by about $130.

The board has called a special meeting for Thursday to continue budget discussions.

Several audience members voiced concerns about the proposed budget cuts, including Kay Gustaitis, one of 72 guidance technicians who would lose their jobs under the budget recommendation.

"I am the face of a budget cut," Gustaitis tearfully told the board, saying her husband had a heart attack a couple years ago and has been unemployed. "I’m begging you. Don’t just go by the position. Please take into account how long people have worked in this district."

Cutting the guidance techs -- assistants to the guidance counselors -- at all schools would save an estimated $1.5 million.

Also on the list is eliminating "teaming" at junior high schools, which would cut 40 jobs and save $2 million; and eliminating two kindergarten teaching assistants at each elementary school, saving $1.6 million.

McCullough recommended reducing the district’s monthly contribution to employee health plans by $25 for professionals and $10 for other employees, which would save $1.2 million.

Adding one class period to each high school teacher’s workload would allow 90 positions to be cut and save $4.5 million.

The district has posted a full list of recommended cuts on its website at www.aisd.net/budget.

Robert Cadwallader,

817-390-7641

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