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Report suggests La Joya ISD should cut more than 250 teachers

Faced with declining enrollment, the La Joya Independent School District should consider eliminating more than 250 teaching positions, according to a report prepared by the Texas Association of School Boards.

The school board reviewed the report during a work session on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re not making recommendations right now,” said Superintendent Gisela Saenz. “We’re just providing the TASB study.”

The association — known in education circles by the acronym “TASB” — prepared the report based on data from May 2021.

“La Joya ISD has seen a 9.7 percent decline in student enrollment from the 2016-2017 school year to the 2020-2021 school year,” according to the report. “Total personnel decreased by approximately 4.3 percent during the same period.”

The report compared La Joya ISD to 10 school districts throughout Texas, which ranged from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District to the Lubbock Independent School District. It also compared La Joya ISD to state averages for everything from student-teacher ratios to the number of custodians per square feet.

La Joya ISD had significantly more employees per 1,000 students than the state average and similar districts, according to the report. That prompted the association to recommend cuts.

Among the suggestions was reducing the number of assistant principals.

“We should have 54 assistant principals,” said Gloria Rodriguez, the executive director for human resources. “We have 66.”

La Joya ISD employs seven assistant principals at La Joya High School and seven more at Palmview High School. Another eight work at Juarez-Lincoln High School.

“We have an additional administrator there, an associate principal for discipline,” Rodriguez said. “So those are decisions that we’ve made locally to be able to assist those campuses.”

All middle schools employ two assistant principals, Rodriguez said, except for Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, which had an extra assistant principal. Elementary schools had one apiece.

The report also suggested La Joya ISD “consider absorbing” up to 162 elementary school teachers and up to 94 middle school teachers.

La Joya ISD currently employs 752 elementary school teachers and 442 middle school teachers, according to information reviewed by the school board.

“So by ‘absorbed’ you mean what?” said Trustee Roberto Zamora.

Rodriguez explained the term “absorb” is a euphemism for eliminating positions through attrition.

“So as resignations, retirements, promotions come into play, we match the skill set of our staff to see who would be a good fit in the position that is needed,” Rodriguez said.

The report didn’t recommend layoffs.

To eliminate positions, La Joya ISD would transfer employees from one job to another. In some cases, employees may actually earn more by transferring to jobs with higher pay.

“I know that we’ve said a lot. And the use of the words ‘absorb’ and ‘absorption’ may cause some anxieties,” Zamora said. “But I just want to assure everyone who might be listening, our staff and others, that we will be fair and take a very close look at what needs to be done, and do it in a fair manner.”

Saenz, the superintendent, said not all recommendations in the report may be right for La Joya ISD.

For example, La Joya ISD employs more elementary school teachers than the state average because the district assigns a music teacher, a reading teacher and a physical education coach to elementary school campuses. La Joya ISD also offers dual-language instruction, which requires additional teachers.

The report provided the school board with a starting point for discussions about staffing, which needs to be adjusted as enrollment drops.

“It’s good that we look at where we are,” said school board President Alda T. Benavides. “And what are some alternatives.”

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