According to the Dallas Morning News, only a tiny handful of the state's 1,000-plus school districts have taken advantage thus far of their new ability under state law to declare financial exigency. By declaring such a financial emergency, districts gain leeway to break contractual commitments to teachers and other educators, fire them in the middle of the contractual term, and set aside procedural safeguards such as the provision of an independent hearing examiner in a hearing on a contested termination. So the minimal use of the law is good news indeed.
Texas AFT adamantly opposed the legislation last year that gave school districts this broad authority. Some 570 of you joined Texas AFT earlier this year in following up with comments to the commissioner of education, urging that his rules implementing this law set a high bar for the use of such extraordinary authority to abrogate contracts and undercut due process.
The Texas Association of School Administrators (superintendents) and Texas Association of School Boards pushed hard for the enactment of the new financial-emergency powers to break employment contracts last session, but now they are lamenting that the commissioner's rules require a 10-percent cut in per-pupil funding before the new powers are triggered. According to the Morning News, only five small districts in the Panhandle, South Texas, and West Texas have used the emergency authority thus far.
While the commissioner's rules by our lights should have been even more restrictive regarding declarations of financial exigency, we cannot quarrel with the philosophy stated by a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency in the Morning News article in response to the complaints from TASA and TASB: “Financial exigency is supposed to be the last step for school districts, hopefully after they have tried all other options to ease their financial problems.”
Source: Texas AFT