Lay-off notices have been handed out to 134 staff within the Wichita Falls Independent School District. Staff were notified Friday that they would not have a job for the 2011-2012 school year.
The WFISD is dealing with a massive budget shortfall. But, that is only half the problem. Until political squabbling in Austin is over, and the Legislature passes Education funding measures, the WFISD will only have a ballpark estimate of how bad things really are.
Originally, Board Members thought they had to tackle a deficit of around $10M. New figures show a worst case scenario of $11.4M. That is the number the District is planning for, just in case. The best case scenario isn't much better; still $5.5M in the red.
Newschannel 6 took those concerns to Texoma Lawmakers in Austin. Senator Craig Estes says the worry is valid. "I have 107 school districts, some small, some big. Each one is going through the budget process, but you point out a very good point... Until we give them the final number they don't know exactly how to write their budget. A lot of the school systems have been very busy doing their preliminary budget cuts. My hope is that funding for Public Education will receive a modest amount of cuts instead of a huge amount of cuts," said Estes.
WFISD had 26 employees from across different positions form a Budget Action Committee. The team tendered thoughts as to how the financial troubles could be tackled. Suggestions were presented to the WFISD Board, who considered each element.
The process has been spread over several days this week. "The Board has been looking at those and what I call green lighting a portion of those but we also had some questions about others. So, they did take out a few of those that they didn't want to see cut and restored them into next year's budget," explained WFISD Superintendent Dr. George Kazanas.
It is still a difficult process, and one that has to be done quickly. "There's a $5.5M or an $11.4M (estimate). You're looking at a $6M difference, so that's the frustrating part is trying to plan ahead in light of the fact that we do have certain deadlines," said Kazanas. The first dealing is April 12, 45 days from the end of the school year.
State Law requires that contract employees, such as teachers, be notified 45 days before the end of the school year, if they are not going to be renewed for the next year. Otherwise, the District would have to go through termination proceedings to cut staff. The notifications were made April 1.
Staffing makes up nearly 80% of the budget, cuts were inevitable. In executive session Thursday, the Board worked-out a proposal to deal with the issue. 134 positions will be eliminated. The District is working to lay-off the least amount of people possible. "We're looking at the consolidation of some services; we certainly looked at the Administration Building with over 20 individuals here alone being cut. A lot of these folks may be retiring or are on what's called surplus where they are going to be assigned to another position that is vacated due to retirements and resignations back on campuses," explained Kazanas.
The District says that 47 of the positions were opened up by retirement and resignation. All in all the staffing cuts should save the District $5.5M. Other measures are being considered to cut the deficit, as well. Pre-K classes will be cut to just a half day. Special Education programs will be re-evaluated and shifted as-appropriate. Staff's benefits and stipends will be reduced.
The Pre-K cuts are catching the attention of Texoma Mom Dawna Fulford. Her soon-to-be 4-year-old, Harley, will be attending the now half-day program next year. "Its not quite fair because with me I'm a working mother, and I try to teach him as much as I can but if they're going to cut it back to half a day is he going to be ready for Kindergarten when the time comes," said Fulford.
She worries what will happen with Education."What kind of education is he going to get in the school system if they don't get their act together and get it all fixed up in time," she wondered.
Kazanas said the quality of Education will be a top priority, and he is confident the Staff will be able to do less with more. "We have to at this point," he said.
The Legislative process could take until June to decide on funding. Estes says he's confident that Lawmakers will hammar out a deal. "We certainly hope that we will get a budget drawn up and agreed to by both House and Senate by then end of May which is the end of our Session If not, this Summer we'll be in special session and no one wants that," he said.
Newschannel 6 will continue to track this issue that affects so many Texomans.
Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6Click on the picture to see a breakdown of the cuts.