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AISD board rejects lump sum for teachers losing jobs

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Heeding warnings that they could end up causing more harm than good, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees shied away from an action last night that would have awarded teachers a $10,000 dollar lump sum for voluntarily leaving their positions.

Other school districts, such as Dallas ISD, have successfully implemented such programs. However, AISD would have risked paying some former employees twice were those employees to take advantage of exit incentives.

As part of the budgeting process, AISD released a very specific list of 1,153 Reduction in Force (RIF) targeted positions. Though the list may not technically be a notice of pending layoffs, according to the Texas Association of School Boards, were employees to take the issue to court they could make a case that they had left “in the face of near-certain layoffs.”

If this were the case, employees would be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits that could cost the school district up to $10,790.

Ken Zarifis and Rae Nwosu, co-presidents of Education Austin, spoke against the incentive program at a press conference. “At this time, anything that is going to cause a hardship on the district’s budget, that is already strained, we do not agree with it,” stated Nwosu.

Education Austin did not, however, object to exit incentives if done properly. “Having that option, a way to step out if they wanted to, is a very reasonable option,” said Zarifis. “Unfortunately, we just moved so quickly that we can’t do it.”

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen expressed similar sentiment at the onset of the budget discussion, when she briefly addressed the exit incentives before the formal discussion took place. “If there is an opportunity next school year, you can be sure that we will bring that forward to the board as soon as possible to ensure that our employees have the same opportunities here as they would have somewhere else,” said Carstarphen.

Carstarphen explained that while the incentives may have initially looked like an appealing prospect, upon further review she determined that there was no guarantee that enacting the measures would allow the school district to break even, let alone save money.

“Everything shiny in Texas is not gold. You’d better know the law, you’d better know the statutes, you’d better know what is underneath,” warned Carstarphen.

AISD Trustee Annette LoVoi, who proposed the exit incentives at the last board meeting, had strong words about the way RIFs are doled out. “A RIF should be a last resort,” said LoVoi. “We’re not Detroit. We’re not D.C.”

LoVoi expressed doubts that the incentives would not be feasible but acquiesced to the board’s refusal to take action in accordance with the administration’s recommendation. She also asked that the board be given more options in the future and that they look at cutting things that the public is unhappy about, like “bonuses and car allowances.”

“Lets look beyond this crisis,” said LoVoi. “Is there going to be a tipping point where parents lose confidence in the system?”

As of Friday night, 231 AISD staff cuts had been resolved. The district said it would preserve 136 positions through alternate funding and 95 were eliminated through resignations or retirements. That leaves 922 jobs remaining to be cut.

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