Unions Take to the Barricades For Old Teachers
Photo by Margaret Downing

Unions Take to the Barricades For Old Teachers

Both the local AFL-CIO chapter and the Houston Federation of Teachers are urging a huge turnout at Thursday night's Houston ISD board meeting to protest planned layoffs of teachers and other district employees in an attempt to stop what one union leader calls "this insane idea" of Superintendent Terry Grier.

Richard Shaw of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council sent out an e-mail in which he predicts that "the more senior and higher paid will be chosen for layoffs first. New teachers with no seniority and who will be placed at the bottom of the salary scale will be hired to replace them.

"This damages our community and is a slap in the face to these dedicated teachers who live here and are raising their families here. Supt. Grier is now directly attacking our community by increasing local unemployment and its dedicated teachers."

Grier told Hair Balls that there will be 406 fewer positions when the administration is done. Of those positions, 82 are teachers (some may not be in the classroom, but are teacher-certified), 154 administrative, 107 are "classified" (secretarial and teacher aides) and 53 hourly employees. The district is facing a shortfall -- the estimated amounts have varied but seem to have settled at around the $25 million mark starting in fall 2010 -- and is taking measures to trim the gap now.

"Where we're getting a lot of kickback from, the AFL/CIO and from HFT and Gayle Fallon [HFT president] is when we do these reduction in force decisions, what they want us to do is they want us to take the most senior people and guarantee positions and place them in jobs," he says. "Which is quite a difference philosophically. We don't believe a principal or department head ought to be forced to take someone just because of their length of service. We think that everyone ought to come in and compete openly for those jobs.

"It's a big philosophical difference."

Grier reiterated some of the reasons for the planned restructuring: "We found there was a change in federal Title II regulations that said that in the past you've been able to hire for example someone that performs this duty out of these federal funds; you no longer can do that. So we found that we have in our schools we have a number of positions that we no longer can fund out of Title II dollars. We also found that just doing a quick review of our Title I allocations that we were hiring some people and paying for them out of Title I dollars that we shouldn't have been. So we had to clean that up. As we did that we issued what is referred to in educational services as Reduction in Force notices. 'Your contract is being non-renewed because those positions aren't there anymore.' If principals want to take those same monies to create jobs that are allowable under those federal guidelines and they want to re-employ you, they can.

"If they don't want to then you are free to apply for other positions in the organization."

The HFT e-mail says that previously when the district had layoffs "HISD kept these employees and they were placed in other teaching positions." It questions why HISD is laying off anyone here while recruiting in California.

"It may not be you this time, but he is not through changing and closing programs and laying off HISD teachers," HFT warns.

If the unions are successful in packing the hall, expect Thursday night's board meeting to be a long one. Here are the documents:

Here's the letter from Richard Shaw of the AFL/CIO and following it, the letter that went out from the Houston Federation of Teachers:

Subject: Supt Grier Attacks Our Community
I am forwarding this message from the Houston Federation of Teachers. The proposal to layoff local teachers and hire new ones from outside the state speaks for itself. You can bet that the more senior and higher paid will be chosen for layoffs first. New teachers with no seniority and who will be placed at the bottom of the salary scale will be hired to replace them. This damages our community and is a slap in the face to these dedicated teachers who live here and are raising their families here.

Supt. Grier is now directly attacking our community by increasing local unemployment and its dedicated teachers. Your presence at this Board meeting is important. Let's all show up. Meanwhile, contact your Board of Trustee Member and ask them why this insane idea is even being considered. (Perhaps now it is becoming clearer why Supt. Grier has been 'shifted' from district to district over these past many years.)

Richard C. Shaw
Harris County AFL-CIO Council




At the Board meeting on April 8, Terry Grier will ask the Board to lay off teachers from schools that are closing or losing positions. This includes special ed teachers, diagnosticians, elementary and secondary core subject teachers, counselors, and nurses.

Before Grier, HISD kept these employees and they were placed in other teaching positions.

At the same time, HISD is recruiting new teachers to fill the anticipated 1200 vacancies for 2010-11.

HISD needs to treat its employees decently and place these employees in open positions!

HFT needs you to attend the Board meeting to let the Board know that laying off Houston teachers so they can hire from California is not acceptable.

It may not be you this time but he is not through changing and closing programs and laying off HISD teachers.

Sign up to speak to Items E4-E7 regarding teacher layoffs. Forms to address the Board are on the HISD website.

Houston Federation of Teachers

Here's Grier's letter on the matter:

As we transition into the next school year, I want to reiterate that there is no greater priority for the Board of Education and myself than to ensure that we place a quality teacher in every classroom and an exemplary principal in every school. We are also taking the necessary steps to create a central-office team whose primary role is to support teaching and learning. To do this means that we must make changes to how we are organized and the staffing levels at which we operate. The purpose of the changes we are making is to help us address the duplication and fragmentation of services that often occur in the regional and central offices, as well as to ensure that we comply with changes that have been made to federal Title program regulations.

As a result of the creation of a more streamlined and purposeful organizational structure, and to address programmatic changes, the district has issued reduction in force (RIF) notices to staff in affected positions districtwide. In total, we will be eliminating 414 positions across the district, primarily in the regional and central offices. The affected areas include the regional offices, Community Services, and our Professional Development Services Department, as well as positions directly funded by Title funds. For example, we are reorganizing our Community Services division, which had a staff of 80 serving 185 homebound students. We have decided to make modifications to assignments to eliminate 28 teaching positions, 7 administrative positions, and 20 classified positions. We will also utilize technology and distance-learning solutions to augment instruction for these students.

Of the 414 positions eliminated through our RIF effort, 154 are administrative positions, 107 are classified positions, and 53 are hourly positions. The remaining 99 positions are currently filled by staff who hold teaching certificates but are not necessarily serving as classroom teachers. For more-specific information regarding the eliminated positions, please see this table. Any savings realized as a result of our efforts will be used to balance the 2010-2011 district budget and to help improve failing schools.

I am aware that ongoing communication is critical to alleviating misinformation and anxiety about both the number of affected staff who are subject to the reduction in force and the available opportunities afforded them within HISD. We are committed to providing support to all affected staff and assisting them in identifying an appropriate position that best fits their skills and interests. Specifically, we are being proactive in notifying affected staff of available positions within HISD for which they may qualify and providing other support through our Office of Human Resources. We have talented employees who are affected by the reorganization and programmatic changes, and I am continuing to work with my staff to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support them in seeking appropriate positions.

A core belief of HISD is that principals should have the ability to hire the most-talented teachers to serve our students. More than 1,000 teachers are hired by our principals each year. Selecting teachers is the most important decision a principal can make when it comes to increasing student achievement and ensuring students are prepared for college and the workforce. HISD has never made these decisions based solely on years of experience. Rather, principals have based their decisions on the individuals' values and beliefs, their knowledge and skills, and the results they can produce with students. That practice must continue.

Individuals across the organization who received RIF notices will have the opportunity to apply for vacancies within the organization, and affected staff will have an opportunity to be considered prior to external candidates. For example, as part of the new organization, we are reducing the size and structure of our Professional Development Services Department from 153 positions to 95 positions. All of the affected staff who have expressed an interest in the available 95 positions have already been scheduled for interviews over the next few days. We are continuing to reach out to all affected staff as soon as possible. That does not mean that we should stop our local, Texas, or national recruitment efforts. All HISD students deserve to have a quality teacher in every classroom.

All members of Team HISD play an important role in helping us reach our goal of becoming the best school district in the country. As we continue to move forward with this transformation, we may from time to time be faced with making very tough decisions. However, we must remain steadfast and focused on making decisions based on what is in the best interest of our students. I realize that approximately 400 positions have been affected by the recent decision, but I truly believe that these changes will provide for a more aligned and efficient organization focused on improving the results we are achieving with our students. And I am committed to providing the necessary support to staff in finding an appropriate position within the organization.

Terry B. Grier, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

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