Monday, September 12, 2011
Teachers having to clean their own classrooms??
DRIPPING SPRINGS, Tex. — Just as Judy Gardner answered the phone on Wednesday afternoon, a coach stuck his head into her empty classroom.
He wanted to know if she had swept her floor yet, because he had students offering to do it as community service.
Entering the new year, Ms. Gardner’s district can say something that fewer and fewer schools in Texas can — no teachers have been laid off as a result of state budget cuts. But the Dripping Springs Independent School District has eliminated custodial positions, and that has left teachers with new tasks after the bell rings: sweeping classrooms and taking out the trash.
“It’s just one more thing at the end of a long day,” said Ms. Gardner, a high school Spanish teacher who has worked in the district for 17 years.
Texas school districts are struggling to absorb the $4 billion reduction in financing that lawmakers approved in the recent legislative session. Many have begun charging for extracurricular activities, considered raising local property taxes, and are dipping into their savings accounts to keep educators employed.
Dripping Springs I.S.D. is doing all of that to cope with the approximately $5 million less it will get from the state over the next two years. Beginning this year, high school students will pay a $125 annual fee to participate in sports, cheerleading and the spirit dance team. A tax ratification election is scheduled for Nov. 8. The school board approved using part of its savings to balance its budget.
But the district of about 4,500 students located 20 miles southwest of Austin was still forced to eliminate 25 positions this year, including librarians, specialists, custodians and administrators, said Dale Whitaker, a spokeswoman. With fewer custodians, she said, the district has needed teachers’ help to keep classrooms clean.
Custodians will still clean the restrooms daily, Ms. Whitaker said, and check on the classrooms every other day to make sure that they have been properly cleaned. According to a district budget report, the change will save just under $450,000 over the two years.
Most teachers in the district, said Ms. Gardner, who is the president of the Dripping Springs Education Association, “are willing to shoulder the burden” — especially since the district is doing its best to keep as many of them employed as possible.
But there have been hiccups in carrying out the policy. Some of the equipment issued by the district is faulty, Ms. Gardner said; for example, the brooms “don’t sweep very well” and the “dust just goes under” the dustpans.
High school and middle school classrooms must be cleaned within 15 minutes of dismissal. That can cut into time teachers set aside to meet with students. According to a cleaning manual that the district gave to teachers, if the rooms are not swept, “room numbers will be logged and reported to respective principals.”
“If a student comes in the middle of your sweeping, you either have to say, ‘No, I can’t help you,’ ” she said, or stop and risk that it will not get done in time.
Ms. Gardner said that she was not sure of the penalty for a teacher who had been reported, but the middle school principal had taken to announcing the names of those who did not clean their rooms the night before.
Jennifer Timm, a high school parent, sat on a districtwide budget committee that discussed how to cut costs. It’s “not an ideal situation,” Ms. Timm said.
“But again, it’s very hard to say, ‘No, we don’t like this, but then what else has to be cut,’ ” she said. “The honest reality is that the Legislature did not provide funding that is required to maintain current levels of educational services for our kids.”
For now, Dripping Springs High School appears to have found a tentative solution.
Since that Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Gardner said groups of students had stopped by to help clean the rooms in exchange for community service hours.
“They’ve been doing it cheerfully and seem really glad to be helping us with this chore,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will last, but right now it’s really cool.”