AISD Teachers Push Back on Proposed Cuts

Union warns cash-starved district: Stay out of the classroom

Education Austin president Ken Zarifis addresses the school board. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Austin ISD teachers came out in force at Monday night's board of trustees meeting to voice concern over two cost-saving measures being eyed by the district. About 50 teachers rallied with Education Austin, the local union, outside the boardroom, and a dozen spoke on how the cuts would impact their ability to provide quality education to AISD's 80,000 students.

District officials had presented to the board two options: replacing one of two teacher planning periods with another class, and/or increasing class sizes in secondary schools. Teachers say that either would increase their workload without an equitable increase in compensation or benefits.

Elyse Hall, a social studies teacher at Austin High School, explained how increasing class sizes and cutting planning time would put even more strain on the underpaid and overworked faculty. Hall said she teaches 177 students this year, and calculated that if she were to spend just one minute of her day grading an assignment for each student, it would take two days' worth of planning time. "I am spending many hours on weeknights and weekdays getting this work done," Hall said. "Like many teachers, I work these hours because I love this job, but the reality is our district cannot expect our teachers to put in more and more unpaid hours."

But district leaders are in a tough spot: AISD's $30 million deficit is not disappearing, and moving into the classroom is one way to save money. Increasing student-teacher ratios from 29:1 to 31:1, for instance, could save the district $6.7 million. (On Wednesday, AISD spokesperson Patricia Fraga confirmed that eliminating a planning period was no longer on the table.) The board was set to vote on ratios on Mon­day, but a late revision changed the agenda item to a discussion of budget priorities; it turns out Superintendent Paul Cruz and his team do not need board approval to change class sizes. Some close to the issue speculate that leadership was hoping for political cover from a supportive board, which was not forthcoming. In a statement, the district said staffing guidelines were previously discussed at board meetings to "give additional opportunities for public comment" and that the item was pulled Monday to "allow for further consideration and deliberation to the staffing formula."

Education Austin president Ken Zarifis knows the district will have to make unpopular cuts to the budget, but he says the "absolute last place" it should be looking is in the classroom. "I am concerned about the budget," Zarifis told the board. "But there are places we need to address through administration, through facilities, and a number of different items before we go into classrooms. It is vitally important that we respect our classrooms, our teachers, and our kids."

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Austin ISD, staffing ratios, class sizes, budget deficit, planning periods, Elyse Hall, Ken Zarifis, Education Austin

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