The San Antonio Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Board President Patti Radle (center) has been serving the people in her West Side district in multiple capacities for 50 years, Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Independent School District trustees on Monday night took the first step toward potential staff layoffs in light of a major budget shortfall and steep enrollment declines projected for the 2018-19 school year.

Trustees unanimously approved the use of a “necessary reduction in personnel” as a possible option to combat the district’s $31 million deficit.

Superintendent Pedro Martinez said staff layoffs are an option but not guaranteed. District officials said they will notify teachers by mid-May if they need to cut jobs.

But the district seems to suggest job cuts are likely. “While we are examining various cost-saving alternatives, none will generate sufficient revenue to eliminate the need for this action,” SAISD officials write in a board agenda document that identifies administration, assistant principals, associate principals, and non-master teachers as staff that will likely be affected.

If the district finds it must reduce its number of teachers, the number of layoffs will be determined by how many teachers submit resignations before the end of the year. District officials reported that as of April 6, SAISD had 73 vacancies, left by teachers who chose to leave by the end of the school year.

“Our goal would be to keep the numbers as small as possible,” Martinez said, noting that the district would monitor retirement numbers over the next month.

Typically, teachers notify the district of their intent to leave SAISD in May and June. If further reductions are needed, SAISD would base terminations on employee performance.

Martinez said discussions about job cuts would also examine whether certain district-wide departments need to decrease in size or be eliminated.

The board plans to vote on the overall budget on June 18.

Using layoffs to shrink the budget depends on whether SAISD can find enough savings to bridge the budget gap or have enough staffing attrition before the budget approval process in June.

At the April 9 board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Larry Garza said the district will save money through an energy savings program, transportation efficiencies, pharmacy-plan change, and child nutrition efficiencies. Altogether, the district could save about $2 million through these operational changes, he said.

Otherwise, the district will “right size” staffing to align with student enrollment, which is projected to sink below 50,000 students in 2018-19. This decrease represents a decline of more than 2,000 students in two school years. SAISD projects it will lose an additional 800 students in 2018-19.

In 2016-17, SAISD employed more than 4,300 teachers and 3,200 professional support staff. School leadership comprised 222 campus administrators and 71 central office administrators.

In 2017-18, the district employed 235 campus administrators and 69 central office administrators.

Garza said SAISD is bleeding enrollment at 65 of its 90 campuses. The majority of campuses losing enrollment serve elementary students. Only 15 of SAISD’s schools project an enrollment increase for next year. The remaining 10 campuses show an increase of less than 20 students in 2018-19.

Martinez said the widespread enrollment decline makes it hard to reshuffle staff so everybody is guaranteed a position.

On April 9, Garza reported there would be 103 teachers “displaced” by program changes, meaning they would not keep their current positions next year. Martinez said this number includes educators who teach programs or grades that are being phased out at different campuses, like the eighth grade program at Highlands High School, which will no longer be offered.

There are an additional 169 teachers who will also be displaced by separate enrollment declines.

Martinez said not all of these 272 teachers could be placed in the 15 campuses with growing enrollment. Some of these campuses, including Steele Montessori Academy and Mark Twain Dual Language Academy, offer specialized programs that require specific teaching experience.

“The challenge right now is between the number of teachers [who] are going to be displaced…and the fact that we have so many schools across our district that are declining or have no increase,” Martinez said on April 9.

Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, said if approved and implemented, this would be the first time SAISD has ever implemented a reduction in force for teachers.

San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter addresses the SAISD Board of Trustees.
San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter addresses the SAISD board of trustees. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

She asked the district to find another way to save money.

“We fear that declaration will create further anxiety among district teachers,” Potter said. “Keep the cuts away from the classroom.”

Trustee Ed Garza (D7) said the district took similar action in 2011, but ultimately avoided any reduction through attrition, adding that SAISD wouldn’t know the entire impact “until the dust settles and process takes its course over the next month or two.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.