Ashanti Blaize, NBCDFW.com
The outlook is grim for Dallas Independent School District teachers and staff, with the district laying out a worst-case scenario to shore up expected state funding cuts.
Texas faces a revenue shortfall of at least $15 billion, and education takes a massive hit in early drafts of the next two-year state budget.
DISD said as many as 3,100 on-campus employees -- including teachers -- and 800 noncampus employees could be laid off.
"Obviously, we were in shock; we were in denial," Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. "In fact, we had been given the worst-case scenario that the state would suffer cuts of $5 billion over the biennium, but then it turned into $5 billion per year, so that just doubled the things that we were kind of preparing for."
At worst, DISD will have to cut 20 percent of its workforce. At best, it will still have to eliminate 10 percent.
The school district has faced big budget crunches before. In 2008, it faced a $64 million shortfall that required the layoffs of hundreds of teachers and staff.
"Yes, I did have that feeling -- 'Oh my goodness, here we go again having to deal with such difficult issues,'" Hinojosa said. "But this issue is five times as big as the internal issue that we had three years ago."
District looking at ways to lessen blow
Hinojosa said DISD is considering some creative solutions to try to keep that worst-case scenario from becoming a reality.
The district is asking the state to allow it to impose 10 furlough days, which would cut the budget by $44 million.
It's also asking for permission to cut salaries by 10 percent across the board for a savings of $85 million.
In addition, DISD wants the state to allow the district to increase teacher-to-student ratios in elementary schools to 25:1.
The district does not need state approval to increase the ratios at middle schools or high schools.
All together, the three measures would cut more than $150 million from DISD's budget.
But the district also wants the state to dip into its $9 billion Rainy Day Fund.
"...If it's not raining now, when is it going to rain?" Hinojosa said. "Certainly, a good portion of that should be used now to get us to the next biennium. And so we think -- we hope -- $4 (billion) to $6 billion of that Rainy Day Fund will be used, and we'll get our fair share of that, at least."
For now, the district is concerned about when the state will answer their requests. DISD's budget is due by June.
"I'm very concerned about it, especially if nothing happens to give us some relief," Hinojosa said. "In August, we're going to have school, and we got to figure out how we're going to have it."
Raising property taxes for extra money is out of the question for DISD without going to voters.
"We've used all our free tax dollars that we can have without voter authorization," he said. "So at some point, if the board decides to have a tax increase, the voters have to approve it, so they'll have their say at the ballot box if it comes to that."
District says school closures possible in future
There's no talk of closing schools to help cut costs for the next school year, but it's a possibility for the following year.
The district breaks ground on Ann Richards Middle School on Feb. 22, and a few schools are scheduled to open next year.
"We're going to use these brand-new schools," Hinojosa said. "Those facilities are a lot better than some of the old buildings we have. If we have to close other schools and move the kids to the new facilities, we will use our new campuses."
At the end of the day, the budget woes are stressful for himself and district employees, Hinojosa said.
"It's not any fun, but you know, we have 157,000 students depending on us making some good decisions about their education," he said. "So we have to keep getting up every morning, coming in with the best attitude you can have and try to get to solutions as quickly as we can."