HISD leaders to review teacher bonus program

(Samica Knight)

January 26, 2011 4:33:49 PM PST
The Houston Independent School District handed out more than $40 million in bonuses on Wednesday to teachers and administrators. But with budget cuts waiting in the wings, could this be the last time?

It's a good day for Andres Balp. He's $11,000 richer because he's the recipient of a teacher performance bonus that is the largest teacher bonus in the district.

"It's nice to be recognized, and it's a good way to attract teachers and it's a way to retain teachers," Balp said.

With 92 percent of HISD's eligible employees -- including teachers and other staff -- qualified to get a share of the $42.4 million ASPIRE awards, the average bonus was about $3,600 per employee. HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier's bonus was $18,000, which is far less than the $30,000 his contract says he's eligible to receive.

But can teachers expect that type of recognition next year?

With the district facing cuts of approximately $350 million in state funding, the ASPIRE program, which is funded by state grants, is in jeopardy of being eliminated or significantly slashed.

But cutting the bonuses is the least of the budget problems faced by Dr. Grier, who on Wednesday admitted publicly what he's so far avoided saying outright.

"It's going to be tough because I foresee teacher layoffs across Texas, and I don't like that," Dr. Grier said.

"Layoffs in HISD?" we asked him.

"There's no question," he replied.

Never a fan of the ASPIRE program, the head of the teachers union says scrap it to save jobs.

"If it comes down to layoffs versus bonuses, a bonus is extra -- a job is a necessity," Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon said.

For the first time ever, HISD is partnering with Cy-Fair and Spring school districts to solicit help from parents and neighbors to lobby their legislators. It's a move born out of desperation to stop budget cuts.

"It is nerve-wracking; at this point of time we have so many uncertainties. You can't help but be concerned," HISD trustee Greg Meyers said.

Fallon is calling on eligible teachers to retire, saying at least 1,000 teachers retire each year, and that could make a difference.

"We're going to ask our people who really had decided already that this was the retirement year, please let them know early -- rather than late -- because it's not a matter of what you're doing to the district, it's whether or not a colleague keeps a job," Fallon said.


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