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It’s a term I first heard for the first time in October, 2009 when NorthEast ISD announced the term–Financial Exigency. For me, it’s a fancy way to say, “We’re about broke.” But it also means this:

  • Reduction in force…whether you are on contract or not, tenured or not, you lose your job.
  • Major change in academic programs (slim down, termination)

Consider Austin ISD’s approach to a recent request, as cited in this Austin American-Statesman blog entry:

…a number of budget reduction options are being considered. The culmination of many of these options may result in the administration proposing that the Board affirm a declaration of “Financial Exigency.” While this independent action does not commit the Board to any specific steps related to the Reduction in Force (RIF) of personnel, it will give the administration the authority it needs to move forward should these steps become necessary. The Board also has the ultimate authority to subsequently approve the administration’s request for a RIF if so proposed.

As a preliminary measure to address financial concerns, effectively immediately all vacant, non-campus based positions will be frozen. Exceptions to filling any non-campus positions will be at the discretion of the Superintendent.
Source: Austin-American Statesman Homeroom blog entry, 01/20/2010

Over the last few days, I’ve had the occasion to wonder a bit at where education is headed, especially in Texas, the State where I work. The discussion has come about because of heavy-duty budget cuts slated for next legislative session…about 10% in cuts at least. What does that mean for large urban districts already at the end of their rope?

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For the District I live in here in San Antonio, it means closing down programs that work, like the NorthEast School of the Arts (NESA)…although a meeting between Superintendent Middleton and NESA parents breathed hope back in. No serious cuts to NESA for 2 years (allowing sophmores now to graduate from the program in 2 years), with attention given to possibly cutting outside of NEISD students due to the cost involved.

Were I in the shoes of an administrator with tough economic choices to make, I’d cut programs rather than staff. But even that isn’t much of an option during financial exigency. . .especially in the years to come. I’m reminded of the story of the fat and starving cows in Genesis 41, verses 1-57. Relevant? Probably not but worth reflecting on.

Since I’ve had my head down working on work projects, I hadn’t kept track of what is going on at the State level. A colleague brought it all home for me and I started to feel that unfamiliar urge symbolized by the question, “When retirement?” The answer is a long way away…and for that I’m glad.

I hope.

Consider these headlines:

  • Austin ISDAustin school district Superintendent Meria Carstarphen today announced an immediate hiring freeze for all non-campus positions and said she is asking the board to declare the district in a state of impending financial crisis. Declaring a “financial exigency” would allow the district to lay off employees — even if they are under contract.
  • While legislatures and school districts in other states rush to comply with the application terms of the federal Race to the Top grant, Gov. Rick Perry is continuing his ongoing feud with the Obama administration by refusing to submit the state’s application – despite months of preparation by the Texas Education Agency. Perry’s political opponents call his decision to reject a projected $700 million misguided; on the other hand, educator groups that opposed the application are concerned that Perry rejected the cash for the wrong reasons.
  • Hard Times, Hard Choices. For months now, we’ve been hearing the comptroller report that state revenue collections have dropped dramatically as the national recession caught up with the Texas economy. For several years, we’ve known that the school property-tax cuts passed in 2006 would not be fully replaced, as promised, with revenue from the new state business-franchise tax passed that year. When you hear folks talking about a structural state budget shortfall, that’s generally what they’ve been talking about.

    Analysts at the Legislative Budget Board estimated that the state in the next biennium will have at least $10.8 billion less than the amount lawmakers used to make ends meet for 2010-2011. That shortfall exceeds the entire amount likely to be available in the state Rainy Day Fund (likely to total $9.6 billion). And the estimated shortfall doesn’t even include the potential impact of factors such as shrinking property values or rapid enrollment growth–let alone the cost of meeting long-neglected needs.

  • Lewisville ISD expects to have an $18 million deficit next year, many programs will be cut or altered.

    “As things get tighter, the district has to decide if this is worthwhile,” Rogers said. “But we believe that it is. We’re trying to prioritize our programs, and every program we have is worthwhile. I don’t expect that we’ll lose Night High School, but we might have to make some modifications. We still want to meet the needs of the students.”

My colleague pointed out that this information is shared with members of TASA…I can’t afford TASA membership, but I’m grateful to for sharing the headlines!

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure