EDUCATION LEADERS ASK FOR MANDATE RELIEF
|Local school officials appeared Tuesday before the Senate Education Committee to ask Senators to ease state mandates on school districts.|
(AUSTIN) — Superintendents, school board members and other administrators appeared before the first meeting of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, February 1 to offer suggestions on how to save money by eliminating certain state mandates. Committee Chair Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano told those assembled that the committee is open to any suggestions regarding cost savings. "This is your public hearing. This is not about anything other than listening to ideas and concerns," she said. "We will not box you in with bureaucratic red tape time and time again that takes time away from task and that spends your money in an inappropriate way."
With the state facing possible severe cuts to public education, $1.8 billion in the first draft of the Senate budget, lawmakers are looking at all options to increase savings at public schools. If the state cuts funding, then more of the burden will fall on local districts to meet accountability standards. The Education Committee heard a number of suggestions to eliminate state mandates in order to save money at the local level.
Amarillo ISD Superintendent Rod Schroder pointed out that state mandated remediation for students who fail end of course exams, while important, costs districts millions each year. He wants more flexibility to decide how to provide those services at lower cost. Schroder also asked the committee for more flexibility to change student to teacher ratios. Above all, though, Schroder asked lawmakers to make decisions quickly, as districts are currently struggling to develop local budgets without knowing how much state money to count on. "You need to make your decisions quickly, you've got to give us signals as to what you are going to do with some of these issues," he said "We are in the budget planning process right now, and to delay really creates a dilemma for us."
Karen Ellis of the Texas Association of School Boards offered more cost saving measures. One of the biggest cost drivers in education are teacher salary levels. State law prevents districts from cutting teacher pay below last year's level, leaving superintendents with furlough or termination as the only option to reduce labor costs. Witnesses asked Senators to give districts more latitude to reduce teacher pay in times of severe need. She also recommended that schools rated "Exemplary" or "Recognized" by the Texas Education Agency be exempted from certain state-mandated accountability standards.
While eliminating certain state mandates would provide some cost savings, Ellis said these savings pale in comparison to the budget crisis facing Texas public schools. "While school boards and superintendents would definitely appreciate relief from state mandates and additional spending flexibility, you must understand that neither will adequately compensate for the deep spending cuts that HB1 and SB1 have proposed," she said "The quality of education our children receive is seriously, seriously at stake." The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, February 2, at 11 a.m.