Tonight’s Fort Worth school board meeting starts at 5:30 in the board room at 2903 Shotts Street.
It could be a long one. There are a number of controversial items on the agenda, including the adoption of a plan to add a ninth single member district to the current 8 single member districts, eliminating the election of the president at-large who would be elected by the board from within. The plan’s been postponed several weeks by opponents on the board and off who claim it doesn’t give fair representation to the surge of Hispanic residents in the district since the 2000 census.
There is also an amendment to the budget – if passed — that will kick the district’s shortfall up to $55 million this budget cycle because the schools chief of administration approved the hiring of 200 additional teachers in violation of board policy, trustee Ann Sutherland said.
“The board approved a district staffing plan last spring which had strict staffing requirements and our budget followed this plan,” Sutherland wrote in an email to Fort Worth Weekly. Then, she said, “In utter violation of budget rules, Human Capital management czar Dr. Sylvia Reyna authorized … not reducing the secondary staffing by the 100 positions required by the plan and then [she] hired 100 more teachers for which there were no positions. Total: 200 positions, $13.5 million dollars.” The staff also wants to add $4 million to the budget to hire elementary teachers but that will be partially offset by $3.6 million in state revenue, according to finance director Hank Johnson. The overall added budget cost will be more than $17 million.
“I think it is a huge—and very costly—error, augmented by all the nickel-and-diming they do to us during the year,” Sutherland wrote.
“This is a case of an administrator exceeding her authority by $13 million,” she said.
The board is also expected to vote on whether or not to join a dozen or more other school districts in a legal battle with the state over the state’s draconian cutbacks in funding for the public schools.
Also likely to come up is a controversial new policy put into effect on Oct. 4 by Reyna — without the approval of Superintendent Walter Dansby — that would subject employees to termination if they had five “unscheduled” absences during the school year. Calling the policy “cold and callous,” the head of the United Educators Association, Larry Shaw, said in an email to the Weekly, that the policy has no provisions for unexpected illnesses like waking up at four in the morning with the flu or the sudden illness of a child. Calling it a “gotcha” system, UEA told Reyna that supervisors were already using the policy to intimidate employees.
Reyna, in a series of emails to Shaw and the board, tried to deflect the criticisms: “Please know that this was clearly explained to all persons that we had no intention of implementing a “gotcha” system and asked everyone to use their professional judgment and sensitivity in dealing with employee absences. … Clearly, someone who wakes up at 3:00 a.m. ill could not have sought advance notice—this is clearly a mistake and we would never discipline someone for that reason.”
Sutherland called the policy an “abomination” and predicted it would be “withdrawn in short order.”
Should be an interesting night. Better take a thermos of coffee with you.