More than 200 sign up to leave school district

FORT WORTH -- More than 200 educators turned in their separation paperwork Wednesday to take advantage of an offer from the Fort Worth school district that could mean up to a $10,000 bonus for some.

About two dozen employees had lined up before dawn to turn in their notification that they will not return for the next school year. The night before, trustees approved giving the first 600 teachers and 100 degreed professionals a bonus for early notification of such in the hope of minimizing layoffs.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 98 elementary teachers, 82 secondary teachers and 29 degreed professionals had turned in their notice, school officials said.

Officials said by knowing early who is leaving, they can determine which positions can be cut, where staff can be moved and -- should it be necessary -- where layoffs will occur so that employees can be prepared as soon as possible. However, some worry the measure won't be enough to meet the district's goal.

"This is a wonderful gift for my family," said Jonnie Adkins, a special-education teacher at the Jo Kelly School who is retiring. "But I will miss my job, my co-workers and my students. I'll just sock it away, put [the bonus] in a safe place for when I need it."

Many employees were reluctant to give their names because they had yet to inform others at their schools of their plans, but said they wanted to fill out the paperwork as soon as possible to qualify for the bonus. The offer decreases as deadlines pass and is limited to the first 400 secondary teachers, 200 elementary teachers and 100 degreed professionals.

Those notifying by Feb. 29 will receive 10 percent of their base salary, with a cap of $10,000. Those notifying from March 1 to March 21 will receive 5 percent of their base salary, with a cap of $5,000. Those notifying from March 22 to March 30 will receive 2 percent of their base salary, with a cap of $2,000.

Some were surprised that more employees weren't lined up Wednesday morning to fill out paperwork, as the slots are limited. The district began accepting forms at 6 a.m., before classes started.

"The money helped me decide. That's why I'm here," one teacher said. "I really expected more of a crowd here."

Samuel Monge, assistant superintendent of human capital management, said it was too soon to tell whether the district will meet its goal through bonuses.

Even before the measure was officially approved, 58 elementary teachers, 39 high school teachers and 23 degreed professionals had submitted their notification paperwork by Tuesday evening, which qualified them for the bonus.

"We've had a constant flow since Thursday when we first announced the bonuses," Monge said. "But it was just approved, and folks need time to decide what they want to do for their future." Monge said that once paperwork is submitted, only the superintendent or his designee can rescind a retirement or resignation.

The district is facing a $55 million shortfall this fiscal year and is looking to cut costs after significant state funding cuts. Officials said offering the bonuses could cost the district up to $4.5 million but could potentially save about $15 million a year as some positions are not filled. Last year, the district offered a $5,000 bonus to teachers and degreed professionals and $500 to other staff for early notification and kept extending the deadline to get more takers.

Chief Financial Officer Hank Johnson told the school board Tuesday night that this year's deadlines were set and that bonuses were being offered only in areas where the district needs to cut staff.

Johnson said he hopes to know who is leaving by late March so officials can focus on whether layoffs are necessary and in what areas they might be needed.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

Twitter: @fwstayala

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