Fort Bend ISD lays off 68 employees
HOUSTON The school board said it would have preferred not to cut teachers first but they really had no choice because state law mandates that teachers not being retained the following year must know about it with at least 45 days remaining in the current school year. With a 5-2 vote Monday night, 68 people lost their jobs, saving the Fort Bend Independent School District $4.1 million. "This, of course, is a sad and difficult day and decision that we have had to come to," Fort Bend ISD board member Sonal Bhuchar said. Before the vote, the seven-member board and the district superintendent met for roughly an hour and a half in closed session, discussing the inevitable cuts. In all, more than 400 positions are gone -- most through attrition and voluntary resignations. It means class sizes will get bigger. "I don't think it's unreasonable to think that there'll be classes of 35 and 40, maybe even higher for some of the fine arts programs," Superintendent Timothy Jenney said. Despite the obvious distress on the part of board members, there were those in the audience questioning the drastic cuts. "I feel like cutting classroom teachers is the last thing that should be done," fifth grade teacher Deb Le said. "I am worried that our class sizes are going to get bigger and our students are going to get less one-on-one time with the teachers," said Melina Moreno, a parent of a fifth grade student at a Fort Bend ISD school. "There are plenty of programs that they can cut so that the teacher doesn't have to have too many students," Kindergarten teacher Blanca Fogleman said. Board member Laurie Caldwell understands that. She's a teacher in the Alief district who recently got her own termination letter. "I understand the money part of it just as much as I understand the teacher part of it. And that's a really unique perspective," Caldwell said. And to put the vote in perspective, while it was on the surface about teachers, in the end, it seems, it's really about the children they teach. "It's the kids. More important than anything else, it's the kids, because certainly the level of service will drop," Bhuchar said. The district says these are just the beginning of the cuts, which are dependent on how much the state takes from them. At $30 million, the cuts will be at 7 percent, but if it's double that, which could happen, they'll be much deeper.