By MATTHEW HAAG, Staff Writer | Dallas Morning News
22 February 2011
The Dallas school district is proposing to offer up to $10,000 to teachers who agree to resign at the end of the year to lighten expenses before possible deep budget cuts.
Under a plan that could be approved Thursday by DISD trustees, the teachers would receive an incentive of 15 percent of their annual salary, up to $10,000. It could cost the district up to $10 million and force it to dip into an already low reserve fund.
The offer would be available to the first 1,000 teachers with contracts who volunteer. That would be about 10 percent of the district’s 10,600 teachers.
Employees who accept the offer must notify the district by March 11, but they would work through the rest of the school year.
“The goal is to help us lay off less people,” said DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander. “We wanted to create a very lucrative incentive. It is to get their attention.”
The proposal comes as Dallas ISD grapples with how to offset a possible $253 million state-funding cut under a worst-case scenario. A reduction that steep could prompt the district to cut 3,900 of its 21,000 positions — 3,100 of those employees would be teachers or others at the campus level.
Neighboring school districts have approved early resignation incentive packages in recent weeks as the Texas Legislature contemplates cutting $10 billion in public education funds over the next two years. But the packages pale in comparison with Dallas ISD’s proposal.
The Rockwall school board approved a $1,000 incentive this week. Cedar Hill is offering $1,000 to the first 50 teachers who step forward.
Irving is offering $500 to staff and $1,000 to teachers if they’re among the first 250 employees to resign. Only 79 employees have accepted so far.
“It’s not bad, but we are certainly not at 250 with about 21/2 weeks to go,” said Irving ISD spokesman Tony Thetford.
The idea is that the offers could be cheaper for the district than laying off employees, who could file grievances and receive unemployment benefits. They also allow districts to better understand next year’s staffing levels and prepare budgets in advance.
Possible cutback targets
Dallas school officials are already eyeing deep cuts to payroll, which consumes more than 80 percent of the district’s $1.2 billion annual budget.
Local and state teacher associations praised the district’s proposal and said they believe many teachers will jump at the offer.
“I think it’s great,” said Rena Honea, president of teachers association Alliance-AFT Dallas. She said teachers at or nearing retirement age would be the most likely candidates.
The deal comes with caveats, however: An employee who takes the offer cannot file for unemployment benefits.
Also, few teachers would qualify for the $10,000 incentive cap, which applies to those making about $66,000 a year. Only those with about 35 years of experience are paid that much, according to DISD records.
Clay Robison, spokesman at the Texas State Teachers Association, said it was the largest offer he’s heard of and he believes it will get teachers’ attention.
“If the teacher is nearing retirement or thinking about retirement, it’s certainly preferable so they can have a little extra,” he said.
But Dallas ISD’s incentive package wasn’t praised by everyone.
DISD trustee Lew Blackburn said he believes the incentive would be accepted by 1,000 teachers, but a $15,000 offer might be snatched up sooner.
He said he would like to know how much money the district expects to save by offering the incentives compared to laying off the same number of employees. “We are going to have to find out,” he said. “But I’d be willing to bet that we are going to save money.”
Dahlander, the district’s spokesman, said he didn’t know how much the district could save or the size of the severance package laid off employees might receive.
In 2008, DISD laid off 415 educators, who received a severance package of two months pay and benefits if they didn’t challenge the termination.
If trustees approve the proposal, the district could use up to $10 million of its roughly $70 million in reserves. Dallas ISD projects to end this school year with a $20 million surplus, but district officials have tried to improve the reserves and have cautioned against tapping into it.
Michael MacNaughton, a founding member of the watchdog group Dallas Friends of Public Education, questioned the proposal.
“Since DISD is already recommending that 3,100 teachers should lose their jobs, why spend $10M to nudge 1,000 out the door early,” MacNaughton wrote in an e-mail. “Aren’t these teachers going to be let go anyway under DISD’s preliminary proposal in the ‘worst case’ scenario?”
Staff writer Tawnell D. Hobbs contributed to this report.