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article imageHigh school builds $60M football stadium, teachers face job cuts

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By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 1, 2011 in World
Allen - In a world described as “brazen, bold and gloriously Texan,” a school district north of Dallas is building a $60 million football stadium as result of a voter-approved bond package, despite budgetary cuts that may force teachers there to lose jobs.
A new $60 million football stadium currently under construction in Allen, TX will, when completed, help ease “chaos” the town experiences on Friday nights during high school football season.
Speaking about recent publicity the school has been receiving over the stadium project, Steve “Bubba” Williams said: “Well, I’ll tell you. We got a lot more interest than I thought we would,” the New York Times reports.
Allen High School won its first high school state football championship in 2008 and that new-found glory was apparently enough to convince 63 percent of the district’s voters to approve a $119 million bond package in May 2009, just months after the championship. The football stadium project also includes a fine arts auditorium and a new school district service center.
Described by the NY Times as “brazen, bold and gloriously Texan,” the stadium will become part of a high school considered the centerpiece of the affluent Dallas suburb. Allen HS is the third largest in the state. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in grades 9 through 12. The high school band has 600 members, the largest in the nation and the campus sprawls across 650,000 square feet of north Texas real estate.
“It’s controlled chaos,” said Anthony Gibson, fine arts director at the high school. “There’s an energy you can’t describe. When they say football is like religion in Texas, it’s true. From little kids all the way to the Super Bowl, we do football right,” according to the NY Times.
Meanwhile the Plano Star reports the Allen ISD is attempting to steady itself as it creates a plan for dealing with a “dramatic” cut in state education funding that will likely cause the loss of teaching positions and staff reductions.
Save for several hot button topics such as abortion and a statewide voter ID program, the Republican-controlled state government has done little to ease an escalating budget crisis in the Lone Star state, and according to some state Democratic leaders, is actually ignoring the crisis.
However, House Bill 1 was released last week which proposes $31 billion in budget cuts as response to a statewide budget deficit reported to be as high as $27 billion. The state Senate has released a similar bill.
If these measures are approved. public education in Texas will take a hit, with estimates of $10 billion in cuts spread over two years. For Allen ISD, if cuts are applied evenly across the state’s school districts, that translates into an $18.4 million reduction in state government funding for its 2011-12 school budget. If proration occurs, meaning funding cuts are based on a district’s wealth per student, that reduction could go as high as $23.2 million, Allen ISD Asst. Superintendent of Finance Mark Tarpley told last week’s school board meeting.
“Unfortunately, any mechanism that they do, there’s still not enough money to maintain current [funding] levels, so that’s a reality that we’re going to have to wrap our heads around,” Tarpley said, according to the Plano Star.
Ken Helvey, Allen ISD Superintendent said that public education is taking the hit because of current politics. “I don’t think anyone really went into the political environment expecting schoolchildren to take the hit they’re going to take, but that’s what it’s looking like right now.”
That statement seemingly contradicts what President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech last week, telling America: “We are poised for progress.” And encouraging young Americans to become teachers: “In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you.” A transcript of that speech can be read here.
In what appears to be another contradiction to Obama’s comments, Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is suggesting teachers take a cut in pay, rather than face possible job losses. “One of those burdens that we have placed on our school districts is that they cannot decrease your salary. They can't have furlough days. It's not allowed in the law. The only option is to fire,” Shapiro said. “We need to give them the ability to lower teacher salaries,” MySanAntonio reported on Monday.
Shapiro is the Senate’s Education Committee Chairwoman and is planning a committee meeting “the very first thing out of the box” that will address issues such as teacher salaries. “The last thing we want to do is put people on the unemployment rolls,” she said in the MySA report. “So we've got to make sure that that particular part of the law is erased.”
Texas’ teaching salaries rank low in national averages, by some accounts in the bottom third. Richard Kouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said the group is divided over the salary decrease/furlough issue but the state should “get our salaries out of the bottom third in the country,” according to MySA.
“If we're going to look at a long list of things that are bad options that are going to take public education in Texas the wrong direction instead of the right direction, they might as well be on the list of things that are going to take us in the wrong direction, “ Kouri added.
Staff members of Allen ISD are creating a pyramid approach to staff reductions from top to bottom, with teachers and other essential positions at the bottom. Still, with uncertainty in the air, campus intervention specialists and English as a Second Language teachers along with student success initiative teachers may not be the only teachers facing the pink slip.
As the New York Times reported in its story, “only football supersedes faith and family” in Texas. Teachers apparently are not on the radar screen. Only hinting at the $60 million football stadium, the Plano Star stated in its budget-cuts report:
"In Allen, Secretary Benny Bolin said the jeopardized funding only affects the maintenance and operations budget. Bond funds, like those used for construction projects, cannot be used to pay for daily operations costs."
Although Allen High School’s upcoming football season is still months away, Tarpley used a line that could have been borrowed from any playbook in addressing the budget cuts: “Now is not the time to panic. Now is the time to take action,” the Plano Star reports.
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