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Verlie Edwards, chief of staff for state Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, reads a statement from Orr at Cleburne ISD public forum on school finance Tuesday night. Also pictured is Cleburne Superintendent Tim Miller.

Cleburne ISD could cut $4 million from its $49 million budget by assessing an across the board 10 percent cut of salaries.

Laws presently prohibit districts from doing so, but Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chairwoman of the education committee, introduced a bill Tuesday that, if passed, would make such pay cuts and furloughs permissible.

Superintendent Tim Miller addressed that issue and an assortment of others at a Tuesday night public forum designed to clear up lingering questions about Texas school finance and its impact on Cleburne ISD.

“The way I understand the Texas Education Code to read, we cannot pay teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors less than we paid them the year before,” he said. “We have to follow the law and follow contracts we agreed to at the beginning of the term. Legislation introduced today by Sen. Shapiro would give us flexibility there. We would not have to pay them as much as the previous year.”

How receptive employees would be to such cuts is another matter.

“I think the majority of them would be,” Miller said;. “One lady said today that if she had to take a 10 percent cut, she would have to leave. It would depend on each individual’s financial situation.”

The district has estimated that funding from the state will be reduced by between $7 million and $11 million.

A 10 percent cut in salaries, along with a possible tax hike resulting in $3.5 million, would preserve jobs.

“If we did a 10 percent cut from the superintendent down to what we pay our substitute teachers, it would be about $4 million in savings to the district, which would go a long way toward any potential cut we’re considering,” Miller said. “That and $3.5 million from a TRE [tax ratification election] would take care of our low-end [budget cut] scenario.”

The first draft of Shapiro’s Senate Bill 468 calls for legalizing pay cuts for teachers and other campus-level staff. The bill also calls for elimination of the required 45-day notification period to teachers being terminated. Presently, those teachers must be told 45 days before the last school day that they are being let go. The bill asks that the new notification day be 10 days after the last school day.

Senate Bill 443, drafted by Texas Sen. Dan Patrick, would allow districts to expand class sizes to reduce numbers of teachers. Presently, the mandated maximum class size for kindergarten through fourth grade is 22-to-1.

Other public forum questions involved administrators contracts, criteria for a RIF, termination timelines, result of exit incentive agreements, class sizes, program changes in fine arts, possible cuts in middle school and high school athletics, program changes for special ed and bilingual, program changes for gifted and talented, schedule changes at the high school, possible consolidation of elementary schools, reductions in counselors and librarians, how parents can help offset district costs and concern over students transferring to other county schools with open enrollment policies.

The biggest round of applause went to a speaker advocating a two-year moratorium on state-mandated tests that cost districts millions of dollars.

Addressing administrator salaries, Miller said there will be no extensions this year of two-year contracts that run through June 2012. He said the total payroll of Central Office personnel is $1.8 million and that Cleburne ISD Central Office staffing is below the state average.

In criteria for a RIF, teachers will be evaluated first on certifications, then performance, then seniority and last on professional background. If terminations are necessary, Miller said, not all will be probationary contracts.

Miller said 28 employees have agreed to terminate their employment in return for an exit incentive, 10 percent of their one-year salaries up to $10,000. Twenty-eight departures equals $1.5 million in payroll, he said.

Depending on the size of the school funding cut, K-fourth grade class sizes could go from 22-1 to 26-1, fifth grade class size to 28-1, middle school class sizes to 32-1 and high school class sizes to 30-1. School days of five, six and seven periods are being studied. The high school day could become eight periods. An eight-period day would begin at 8 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.

Fine arts, career and technology and athletics cuts would be impacted by level of overall cuts. Similarly, cuts in special ed, bilingual and gifted and talented would be impacted by level of overall cuts, Miller said. So would possible elementary school consolidation.

Miller told the crowd that the best way for parents to help with funding is to get their children to school every day, as money from Austin is based on average daily attendance. the better the attendance, he said, the bigger the check from Austin.

From the day the school funding shortfall was said to be on the way, Miller has dealt publicly in specifics, going so far as to name Cooke and Coleman as elementary schools that could be consolidated in a worst-case scenario.

“Because for us proration [reduction] could mean an $11 million hit, I think as superintendent I needed to have a plan and needed to let people know about the plan so they could let legislators know that this cut is not going to work,” he said.

He acknowledged his candor may have raised fears in the community.

“Because of the fear factor, I wish I could have done a better job so people didn’t get anxious about their child’s school closing. But I think the information, planning and projections are what we needed to do. We need to be as transparent as possible and take input from as many people as possible. We got some more good ideas tonight.”

 

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