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Thursday, February 24, 2011

State Senators Try To Buy Time For Teachers

by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune
February 24, 2011

With major state funding cuts looming, for many school districts, it's not a question of if — but how and when — teacher layoffs will occur. A new bipartisan bill from education leaders in the state Senate could temporarily change how schools go about that.

Currently districts must provide 45 days notice to teachers if their contracts are not going to be renewed. Once teachers receive word of that notice, they have 15 days to request a hearing. A bill by state Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, announced at a Capitol press conference Thursday would give teachers 30 days instead of 15 to request a hearing. The idea behind the newly filed SB 912, which the senators developed with input from teacher, administrator, and school board organizations, is to buy time for districts who may be forced to fire teachers soon even as the Legislature continues to work on what many hope will be an improved budget plan.

"Teachers are the No. 1 most important element in the classroom," said Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education committee. "They come first and we've got to make absolutely sure that teachers across this state recognize that we are working diligently every single day to help them." As the senators took questions from the media at the conference, Shapiro also said she believed the Legislature would use some of the Rainy Day Fund to increase general revenue in the budget.

Davis, who also sits on the Education committee, said she hoped the bill sent a message to teachers that the Legislature is doing "as much we can in a difficult situation."

The legislation also contains a provision that allows districts to designate a lawyer to conduct the hearings in lieu of full a school board. If the estimates of potential layoffs into the 100,000s are accurate, school boards would be overwhelmed.

Eric Hartman, spokesman for the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, emphasized that the legislation was "not something that permanently changes teacher contract rights in Texas."

If it secures a two-thirds vote in both chambers, the bill would take effect immediately — and would apply only for the current school year.

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