House approves SB 8, retreats on Rainy Day Fund

The House passed its version of Senate Bill 8, the teacher pay-cut bill, on Thursday and, if anything, made it worse. Republican House members also succeeded in reversing House support for a contingency education appropriation of as much as $2.2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. 

In other action, the House approved Senate Bill 6, the instructional allotments bill, which House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler amended to include changes that relax some of the end-of-course testing requirements next year. 

Speaker Joe Straus appointed House conferees on two fiscal matters bills, Senate Bills 1 and 2. 

SB 8, sponsored in the House by Eissler, R-The Woodlands, still allows school districts to cut teacher pay in two ways, but representatives amended the bill to require that districts reducing teacher salaries also impose comparable reductions on administrators. 

The measure also will still eliminate seniority as a factor in determining dismissals when districts impose reductions in force. And, the House amended that provision to make it clear that districts, during RIFs, can use teacher appraisals to help determine which teachers under continuing contracts can be fired. 

The House also approved an amendment to repeal automatic pay increases for teachers at open-enrollment charter schools. 

TSTA President Rita Haecker issued the following statement to the media: “Senate Bill 8 does nothing to address the budgetary crisis. It is an unwarranted attack on public schools and teachers, which will worsen, not improve, the educational opportunities for Texas children.”

SB 8 also:

  • Allows districts to order furloughs for teachers and administrators for as many as six non-instructional days and reduce their pay accordingly. 
  • Repeals the 2009 salary floor for returning teachers. This would allow districts to reduce pay for all teachers. 
  • Freezes the state minimum salary schedule at 2010-11 levels. 
  • Moves the deadline for notification of contract non-renewal from the 45th day to the 10th day before the end of instruction, giving laid-off teachers less time to find jobs for the next school year. 
  • Allows school districts to declare financial emergencies at any time for purposes of imposing reductions in force and eliminates seniority as a factor in determining dismissals when RIFs are implemented. 
  • Repeals a terminated teacher’s right to a hearing before an independent hearing officer. 
  • Adds another provision for districts to use in seeking a waiver from the 22-1 class size cap in K-4.

Most of these changes will be PERMANENT. They won’t end when the budget crisis ends. 

The House tabled, or killed, an amendment by Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, which would have allowed districts, for punitive reasons, to suspend teachers for up to five days without pay and without an appellate hearing.

They approved amendments that:

  • require that, to be entitled to receive payments from the district for dues or membership fees, an organization for whom membership fees or dues are deducted must annually provide written notice to the employee of the total amount of dues deducted by the district. 
  • provide that a determination by the hearing examiner regarding good cause for the suspension of a teacher without pay or the termination of a probationary, continuing or term contract is a conclusion of law and may be adopted, rejected or changed by the board of trustees or a board subcommittee. 
  • require a district to release a teacher under a continuing contract at the end of the school year due to a reduction in force primarily using the teacher appraisal system.   
  • provide that any time a district conducts a reduction in force based on financial exigency, the school board may also terminate the superintendent’s contract or amend the terms of the contract. The superintendent may also resign without penalty.  
  • provide that any reduction in salary shall also apply to administrators at the same percentage rate. 
  • provide that the 10 day notice of nonrenewal must be hand delivered by the deadline. If unable to hand deliver, the notice must be mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested.

In a Republican-driven retreat, the House approved, 87-59, a motion by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, to instruct House conferees on Senate Bill 2 to delete a Rainy Day Fund amendment that Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, had succeeded in getting added to the bill last week. 

That amendment would have provided a contingency appropriation of as much as $2.2 billion for public education if the Rainy Day Fund balance exceeded the $6.5 billion projected for the next budget period. It would have partly compensated for the $4 billion cut from school finance formulas in the new state budget. 

The House conferees on Senate Bill 2 are Republican Reps. Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Myra Crownover of Lake Dallas and Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, and Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon of San Antonio. 

House conferees on Senate Bill 1 are Pitts and fellow Republicans John Otto of Dayton, Rob Eissler of The Woodlands and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and Democrat Mike Villarreal of San Antonio. SB 1 includes several financial provisions necessary to balance the new state budget and provisions for distributing the $4 billion in school finance reductions among the school districts.