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EduLege Tracker 5-17-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 31
May 17, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

Another storm is brewing…

Faced with flat-lined state funding, increased operating costs and declining student enrollment, the San Antonio school district says that it must eliminate at least 132 teaching positions for the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

The district is trying to cope with a projected $30 million budget shortfall.

In an email to district staff, San Antonio superintendent Pedro Martinez says the approaching budget scenario has “placed us in a predicament of being overstaffed for the enrollment we have today and for what we anticipate for next year.”

In addition to the elimination of 132 teaching positions, Superintendent Martinez says the district is reducing 18 assistant principal posts and has cut 13 jobs in its central office.

Even with those reductions, which represent 3.9 percent of San Antonio’s teaching staff, the district is going to be overstaffed by approximately 108 positions. It hopes those reductions can occur through resignations and retirements.

The San Antonio Alliance for Teachers and Support Personnel, which recently filed a lawsuit to block the district from turning administration of a local elementary school over to a charter school operator, is protesting the way in which the approaching reduction in force is being carried out.

“I understand that we are losing money and cuts need to be made,” said elementary school teacher Gabrielle Garcia. “But the fact that we're being ignored, and it's only after the fact that information is being released, it doesn't foster a great deal of trust between the district and the teachers.”

The personnel upheaval in San Antonio comes just weeks after the Houston school district was forced to issue layoff notices to approximately 230 teachers and staff.

Houston Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo calls the district’s dire financial situation a “perfect storm,” that is the result of massive recovery expenses associated with Hurricane Harvey; the threat of Houston—for the first time—being subjected to the state’s “recapture” school finance provisions and the 10 local campuses facing closure due to the state’s tough school accountability requirements.

(Incidentally, HFT President Capo has just penned an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle that references the teacher walkouts nationwide—yet another took place Wednesday in North Carolina—and asks how long Texas educators will tolerate inadequate state funding and its impact on the state’s public school students. Click here to read that piece in its entirety.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Students across the state had problems connecting to their State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests' online system earlier this week.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said that approximately 110,000 students were online when the intermittent disruptions and system slowdowns started to occur.

“For some reason, students were having difficulty logging in,” Ms. Culbertson said.  “Once they were able to log in, there were some slowdowns to the system.”

Most of the students who were testing online are in Special Education classes, because they may need aides to read them questions out loud or help them interpret a graph.

According to TEA, the issues started around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and were resolved about two hours later.  

If students were unable to complete their tests in the time allotted, they will be able to finish when makeup testing is scheduled for tomorrow (Friday, May 18).

Meanwhile, TEA is working with Educational Testing Service, Texas' third-party testing contractor, to find the cause of the issues.

The STAAR test administration also had a glitch back in April, when students were kicked out of the online system.

Since ETS began administering the STAAR test in the 2015-2016 school year, Texas school districts have experienced a host of problems, including lost answer sheets, tests delivered to the wrong addresses, answer sheets being prefilled with the wrong student information and confidential student data being sent to the wrong districts.

In 2016, TEA fined the company $21 million after a widespread computer glitch erased students’ answers to 14,200 tests.  

A weighty agenda…

The House Public Education Committee will meet at the State Capitol on Thursday, May 24, to consider options—beyond STAAR test results—for measuring student achievement.

The committee, chaired by State Representative Dan Huberty, R-Humble, has also been charged with studying the relevance of the Texas Essentials of Knowledge & Skills in relation to measuring student achievement, as well as a review of the Student Success Initiative.

The committee’s weighty agenda also calls for testimony on the success of the state’s educational services for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs that specialize in autism, dysgraphia and dyslexia.

He won’t be administering any more STAAR tests…

The Marlin school district Board of Managers has voted to terminate the employment contract of a high school teacher because of a derogatory comment that he made about students who were about to take a STAAR test.

According to Marlin superintendent Michael Seabolt, the teacher, Claude Kelley, said to a colleague, and to students, right before the Algebra I End-of-Course exam was to be administered that “there were only a couple smart enough to pass it, anyway.”

“You can think bad things about my kids, but I better never hear it,” Superintendent Seabolt said.

Superintendent Seabolt says Mr. Kelley’s termination was justified as a violation of the ethical conduct section of the Texas Education Code, and Marlin’s Code of Conduct provisions that pertain to interaction with students.

‘Wait a minute. I know that kid…’

A 25-year-old man, who posed as a 17-year-old Dallas high school student so he could once again take to the basketball court, has been arrested.

Sidney Bouvier Gilstrap-Portley began the school year at Skyline High School, where he enrolled after claiming to be a Hurricane Harvey refugee. Months later, he moved to Hillcrest High School and joined the basketball team.

Gilstrap-Portley has been charged with tampering with government records. He has no previous criminal history.

Dallas school district officials believe that Gilstrap-Portley’s primary motivation for the ruse was to play basketball again.

Gilstrap-Portley's charade came to an end after one of his former coaches from North Mesquite High School saw him playing at a tournament and recognized him as one of his players who graduated from high school seven years ago.

The Mesquite coach alerted the Hillcrest basketball coach that "one of my former players who graduated a long time ago is playing for you.”

Teacher and snake charmer…

Honey Grove elementary math teacher Laurie Schroeder quickly jumped into action and grabbed a snake with her bare hand as the reptile slithered into a classroom during a recent after-school tutorial session.

“The other teachers and I had just finished after-school tutorials, and one of the students said they saw a snake go into one of the classrooms,” Ms. Schroeder said.  “We didn’t know what kind of snake it was, or how big a threat it was.”

Her colleague Karon Cunningham, a Honey Grove science teacher, captured the ensuing comedy/drama on video as it unfolded.

In a 25-second video clip, Ms. Schroeder can be seen near a small cubicle on the floor attempting to corral the snake. Two other teachers—screaming and laughing—jumped on top of a nearby desk, while another stands nearby, waiting to see whether Ms. Schroeder can corral the snake.

For her part, Ms. Schroeder remains quiet, focused on grabbing on the unidentified species of reptile.

After a few seconds, Ms. Schroeder was able to grab the snake with one hand, while holding a broom in the other hand, placing the reptile inside a small trash can.

The snake was later released, a safe distance outside the school, and the Honey Grove teachers went back to developing their lesson plans for the next week.

What’s the charge for disrupting a school play?

Police arrested and charged an intoxicated Friendswood mother whose vocal outbursts were disrupting a school play in which her child was performing.

An officer approached 35-year-old Christy Ann Churchwell in the Friendswood Junior High School auditorium and asked her to step outside. The officer immediately noticed the strong smell of alcohol on the woman’s breath.

Once outside, Ms. Churchwell allegedly tried to punch the officer, before being taken into custody on a misdemeanor public intoxication charge. As she was being taken into custody, she again attacked the officer, this time kicking him in the leg.

Then, as she was detained later that night, police say that Ms. Churchwell purposefully set off the fire sprinkler in her cell, causing flood damage to the jail.

As a result, Ms. Churchwell was charged with assaulting a peace officer, public intoxication and filing a false report or alarm.

EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.