While the Beaumont Independent School District administration claims they are speaking on behalf of the students of the school district, the students spoke up for themselves at a budget meeting Monday, June 9. At the meeting, the governing BISD Board of Trustees was set to approve a Reduction in Force (RIF) that would eliminate the jobs of more than 230 educators, and cut fine arts and foreign language programs district-wide. BISD students were moved to action.
“According to the original list (BISD) put out last Friday, they were going to cut theater positions in two high schools, and at least two middle schools,” Ozen High School theater teacher Gina Martin said, dismayed. “Music positions are being cut … everywhere. Ozen alone was going to lose both dance teachers, the choir director, the theater arts teacher, the orchestra director and two art teachers as well as three Spanish teachers and a French teacher … in addition to the core classes. So what that leaves Ozen – as the performing arts school, the ‘fine arts magnet’ – that leaves them with one art teacher and a band director for over a thousand children.”
The loss of the arts and arts teachers prompted students to take to the Internet and social media sites.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder for standing up in what they believe in,” Martin said. “I’ve learned a lesson from them because I’ve stayed quiet for a long time and these kids at 14, 15, 16, 17 can stand up and say, ‘No this isn’t right.’”
On the front lines of the student movement is Ozen Thespian Society president Hope Flores.
“I think that’s crazy because I don’t consider myself a leader,” Flores said of her role in a protest movement that’s only gaining in traction, with students and staff ready to make their voices heard at future BISD meetings, starting with the Thursday, June 12 meeting.
“But I wasn’t going to sit around and mope,” Flores said. “I was going to do something about it. Whether they followed me or not – that was up to them.”
But follow they did.
“We are really dedicated to what we are doing right now and it wasn’t hard at all,” she said. “We just spread the word and people were like, ‘Hey, I’m coming to support you guys.’”
Flores said when she heard of the cuts to be made at BISD, she was heartbroken and brought to tears.
“What made me break into tears was the thought of losing my family,” she said. “And when I say family, I mean my theater family. These programs that are being cut are second families to us and if her job is cut and she is no longer a teacher, then the theater program at Ozen will be cut and everyone that was in that program, well there isn’t going to be a program.
“That really hurts the chance for kids to get scholarships, and that is big — I mean BISD and the schools are about helping the kids. And if you are going to cut programs that can help the kids, that doesn’t make sense to me. All of this is really confusing, and what it all boils down to is greed. I guess it’s no longer about the kids anymore.
“It definitely would be hard because my family doesn’t have the money to put me through college and as a matter of fact, one of the programs they are cutting is the AVID program that is specifically designed to help get ready for college and help them get scholarships.”
Prior to Monday’s meeting, Chargois made recommendations to cut the school district’s AVID program and all the educators employed in the program, cut contributions to employees’ health insurance premiums by millions of dollars, cut after-school bussing for programs and activities, cut driver’s education in its entirety, cut Cradles ‘N Cribs services provided to teen mothers, and reduce by approximately $5 million “other service areas, including overtime, travel, field trips, testing and the extended leave program.” Those cuts, he said, do not require board approval, and will continue even though the BISD Board of Trustees is hesitant to cut jobs at this point. Chargois also said Monday he identified 72 at-will positions to be eliminated, as well, also to be exacted with or without board approval.
“To streamline our operations is hurting, but I see no other choice,” Chargois said. In correspondence from the office of the superintendent, Chargois was noted as presenting the “cost-saving considerations” to the board to go hand-in-hand with the RIF he expected to complete by the end of the month. Chargois was also “reviewing a list of other unfunded line items contributing to the state of financial exigency of the school district.”
TEA representative DeEtta Culbertson said that an incoming Board of Managers could be able to reverse some of the changes made by the current administration – depending on what is done and how long it takes to get a Board of Mangers installed.
“It’s hard to say what the Board of Managers can do depending on how long the changes have been in place before they get there,” Culbertson said. She said the TEA’s legal department is currently investigating what provisions and stipulations could be utilized to assist the Beaumont community during this time of change, but with a Temporary Restraining Order in place by a district judge in Austin to keep the TEA out of BISD, there isn’t a lot the state agency can do at.
“All I can say right now is that the community can do something when it comes time to vote,” she said. “That’s the best course of action the community can take at this time.”
Legal wrangling has prevented any voter intervention, as a local judge ruled that the next BISD Board of Trustees election will not be held until May 2015.
Brandi Haskett contributed to this report.