KatyISD students protest over teacher layoffs, 2011

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Timing
Time Period:  
14 April
2011
to
15 April
2011
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Katy
Location Description: 
District outside of Houston, Texas
Goals: 
Prevent KatyISD from teacher layoffs in its massive budget cuts.
 

Texas has consistently ranked poorly among other states with regard to education. In 2010, Texas ranked dead last in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas and ranked very low in spending per student in public schools, a problem that became exacerbated in 2011. During the Great Recession in 2007, Texas was able to avoid the housing industry meltdown and soaring unemployment rates that plagued the rest of the United States due to its booming oil and gas industries. However, when federal stimulus funds expired along with Governor Rick Perry’s refusal to raise taxes in order to counter state revenue declines in 2010, Texas began to build up an enormous budget deficit.

In early 2011, Texas lawmakers announced a ‘Spartan’ budget plan that called for almost $31 billion in spending cuts to close the state's massive budget deficit estimated between $15 billion and $27 billion. The new spending plan hit the education, Medicaid, and correction sectors particularly hard, including a 13 percent slash in public education funding and a 7.6 percent drop in higher education support. In particular, direct aid to public school districts was cut by $953 million while almost $10 billion in public education funds, used to cover expenses such as student enrollment growth, was removed from the budget. Furthermore, the lawmakers’ plan eliminated nearly 50,000 public teaching positions and 9,300 government jobs.

Specifically, the Katy Independent School District (KatyISD) laid off 350 teachers and other employees and eliminated another 200 jobs through attrition in order to close the district's $50 million budget deficit. The job cuts saved the district about $23 million.

On 14 April, 2011, hundreds of high school and junior high school students from KatyISD walked out of class in order to protest the teacher layoffs. Students were seen gathering in roads leading to school entrances screaming at passing cars and holding signs with messages, such as “Save our Teachers” and “Honk for Teachers.” The walkouts began in the morning at Morton Ranch High School but soon spread to other KatyISD schools, such as Seven Lakes High School, Cinco Ranch High School, and Mayde Creek High School, through texting and facebook posts between students. The Principals of involved schools also helped spread news of the student protests by broadcasting updates to their students through video announcements. At Seven Lakes High School during the daily morning ‘Slamcast,’ Principle Christie Whitbeck addressed students about riots occurring at Cinco Ranch and explicity made it clear that students wouldn’t be punished at Seven Lakes if they did the same.

The student continued protests the next day. District officials stated that no disciplinary action would be pursued against students that participated on Thursday and Friday but that they would receive absences for walking out of class. However, students that continued the protests the following week would be issued tickets for disruption of school. In response, the protests in KatyISD halted completely.

The walkouts in KatyISD spread to other Texas school districts, such as HoustonISD, throughout the 2011 spring school year and into summer, leading Texas Governor Rick Perry to respond, “there are better ways to send your message than walking out of the classroom.” Perry then stated that he believed that the Texas Legislature would properly fund Texas public schools and that students need to be in the classroom.

Furthermore, students sent personal letters to the KatyISD superintendent Alton Frailey questioning the school’s current budget that featured expensive upgrades in technology, such as new laptops ($2000 each) and smartboards ($5000 each). The district had also recently spent almost $5.2 million to install synthetic turf on all six KatyISD high school football fields in 2009, a decision that had been met with public outrage at the time and resurfaced again in 2011. Students also began inquiring if there were alternatives to laying off the teachers, such as lowering district employee salaries and bonuses. However, when Dr. Frailey responded to students, he stated that the issue was very complicated and that reducing teacher salaries was against the law. Parents and students questioned the propriety of his response as he had recently received a three percent raise in salary from $280,000 to $288,000.

In May, KatyISD announced that they were committed to keeping as many teachers as possible and revealed that they were in the process of rehiring teachers who were laid off during the 2011-2012 school year. In a statement, Superintendent Alton Frailey stated, “We are pleased that we are able to bring back some of the teachers now, and hopefully the funding shortfall will be smaller than predicted and allow us to bring back even more.”

KatyISD’s 2011-2012 budget eventually allowed the district to rehire 214 out of the 267 teaching positions that school authorities originally eliminated under budget cuts. They also reinstated some items that had been, including the elimination of transportation not reimbursed by the state; the increase in ticket prices for athletic events by $1; and the reduction of elementary principals and their secretaries to 11-month contracts.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The student walkouts were influenced by similar walkouts happening in Texas school districts at the time. (1) The KatyISD student walkouts influenced other walkouts in the are including the HoustonISD student walkouts.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Andrew Steele 11/01/2015