Thousands of Dallas Students Protest Board's Decision To Lay Off Teachers

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Thousands of Dallas students staged a raucous demonstration last week in front of the district's administration building to protest 245 teacher layoffs that have disrupted the opening of school.

But after the Classroom Teachers of Dallas challenged the layoffs in a lawsuit, union and school-district officials agreed that no teachers would lose their jobs until this week, when the school board will hold an emergency meeting te reconsider the district's budget.

The layoffs were prompted by the district's loss of $47 million in state aid under Texas' new school-finance plan. Dallas, which lost more money under the finance plan than any other district in Texas, had hoped to persuade state lawmakers to phase out the state money over three years.

When lawmakers refused to do so during a summer special session, the school board adopted a $542'million budget that includes a 17.5 percent property-tax increase.

Rene Castilia, president of the school board, said the board would have had to raise taxes by 31 percent te make up fully for the loss.

"The board felt, and I agree, that we shouldn't pass all that loss on te the taxpayer," he said.

But teachers'-union officials argued that the board made an unwise decision that backfired when the protesting students were shown on national television.

"A lousy $6 million is all it would take" to preserve the teachers' jobs, said Maureen Peters, president of the Alliance of Dallas Educators, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

The turmoil was especially acute bocause teachers were notified that they were being let go the next day--the first day of school for the city's 135,000 students.

The lawsuit filed by the C.T.D, an affiliate of the National Education Association, charged that the school district had violated its own reduction-in-force policy in dismissing the teachers and asking for a restraining order to stop the layoffs.

Bob Baker, president of the C.T.D., said the Dallas school board had failed to take the required, separate votes on which categories of teachers to let go and also had not considered teacher layoffs as a separate agenda item. Instead, he said, the board on Aug. 20 approved a budget that required layoffs because it included changes in pupil-teacher staffing ratios.

Superintendent of Schools Marvin Edwards announced late last week that he had identified $2.3 million in unspent construction funds that cotfid be added to the budget. Chaotic Classrooms

The estimated 3,000 high-school students who rallied outside the school district's downtown Dallas headquarters on Sept. 3 complained of chaos in their schools, where some classrooms were left without teachers and were crowded with as many as 50 to 70 students.

During the demonstration, three students were arrested for throwing rocks and bottles. Several students also had to be treated for heat exhaustion due to the 90-degree weather.

A Dallas police officer who was hit in the head by a bottle was treated and released from a local hospital.

During a demonstration the next day that drew fewer than 300 students, a mounted police officer and his horse were struck by a car driven by a 17-year-old student. The student also was arrested, and police said the officer was not seriously injured.

Despite the incidents, Rodney Davis, the district's director of information services, described the protesters as "a pretty orderly crowd" and said some students had apologized to police officers for the violence.

The students "didn't want it portrayed as a riot," Mr. Davis said, adding that some administrators were concerned there may have been "adult involvement"to encourage the students to leave their classes.

Ms. Peters said her organization "did not instigate" the protests. The school-board president applauded the students' interest in beginning the school year in an orderly fashion.

"While everyone thinks that kids are dropping out of school or running around in gangs or taking drugs, what we've seen is more kids interested in education and demanding a good education," Mr. Castilla said.

The layoffs were necessary, according to Mr. Davis, because Texas' new school-finance plan cost Dallas virtually all of its state funding. The new finance scheme is referred to by some Texans as the "Robin Hood plan" because it takes money from property-rich school districts and redistributes it to poorer districts. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .) The layoffs affected 186 high-school teachers, 50 elementary teachers, and 9 middle-school teachers, according to the A.D.E.

Ms. Peters complained that teachers were called out of their classrooms during school to be dismissed.

"People felt like they were being punished," she said. The union president also criticized the district for failing to provide substitute teachers to handle the classes that lost teachers.

"What happened is students started being shuffled into holding pens," Ms. Peters said. 'q"here is chaos in the schools. They can't issue books or homework, and the kids know it's a waste of time."

Vol. 11, Issue 02, Page 5

Published in Print: September 11, 1991, as Thousands of Dallas Students Protest Board's Decision To Lay Off Teachers
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