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DISD Asks for Help in Budget Crunch

Administrators say range of cuts are possible

By Scott Gordon
|  Wednesday, Mar 2, 2011  |  Updated 12:13 AM CDT
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DISD school board members express frustration about trying to come up with a budget plan without knowing how much funding the state will cut.

Scott Gordon, NBCDFW.com

DISD school board members express frustration about trying to come up with a budget plan without knowing how much funding the state will cut.

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Dallas Independent School District trustees agreed Tuesday to appoint an advisory committee to set budget priorities after administrators warned that deep cuts could eliminate 4,000 jobs and include furloughs and pay cuts.

The committee would be made up of citizens appointed by school board members and would come up with suggestions on how to slash the budget.

"We don't want to be fear mongers," Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. "But at the same time, we got to be honest about what the liabilities are."

School board members expressed frustration about trying to come up with a plan -- with numbers that don't yet exist.

"It's a heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching process, and you're working with absolute question marks," said Rena Honea, president of Alliance-American Federation of Teachers.

DISD faces two big deadlines. The last day to sign teacher contracts is April 14. The final budget must be approved by June 23.

But nobody knows exactly when lawmakers grappling with a large state deficit will tell school districts how much they have to spend.

The state faces a revenue shortfall of at least $15 billion, and the Legislature is expected to slash education funding.

"We're in the first quarter of the Super Bowl," Hinojosa told board members. "This is a huge game. But as you can tell, very few decisions have actually been made by the state."

Hinojosa said all the district can do is guess how many teachers to hire in April and then make cuts later in the year.

He said those cuts could come in a number of ways.

"Nobody could take a triple whammy -- reduced days and furlough and pay reduction -- but if we have all those tools in our tool kit, we can make much better decisions," he said.

Hinojosa said administrators had rejected an idea to lay off all probationary teachers.

"Some young teachers are our best teachers," he said.

He said one option is to furlough employees up to 10 days, which would save about $40 million and save as many as 700 jobs.

Hinojosa also defended his decision to come up with a "worst-case scenario" that could eliminate 4,000 teachers and staff members.

"I think it got people's attention," he said. "I wasn't trying to scare people. But it is important that people realize the drastic nature of this. And, you know, you have to make some tough decisions when your back's against the wall."

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