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La Joya ISD may not replace about 130 teachers as part of ‘Staffing Adjustment Plan’

The La Joya Independent School District may not replace about 130 teachers who resign or retire when the school year ends.

Under the plan, La Joya ISD may not replace 22 elementary school teachers, 76 middle school teachers and 34 high school teachers.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re cutting,” said school board Trustee Anthony Uresti. “It’s more that we have teachers that are leaving.”

The school board decided not to replace the teachers after becoming concerned about enrollment.

La Joya ISD had about 29,200 students in October 2012, according to enrollment data published by the Texas Education Agency. By October 2022, the number of students enrolled at La Joya ISD had dropped to about 24,800.

The district, however, didn’t reduce the number of employees on the payroll to match enrollment.

La Joya ISD actually increased the number of “Central Administrative Staff” as enrollment dropped, according to a report prepared by the Texas Association of School Boards, which concluded the district had significantly more employees than the state average.

The mismatch between employees and enrollment created a major problem for La Joya ISD.

In Texas, the state funds school districts based on average daily attendance. Districts with lower enrollment receive less money from the state.

La Joya ISD would be faced with financial problems unless the district either increased enrollment or reduced the number of employees on the payroll.

To address the problem, trustees approved a “Staffing Adjustment Plan” in January.

Superintendent Gisela Saenz said the plan would save nearly $10.4 million by eliminating positions when the school year ended. Saenz said La Joya ISD would also save nearly $14 million through “natural end of year teacher-educator turnover.”

The Progress Times asked La Joya ISD how many positions would be eliminated through “natural end of year teacher-educator turnover,” but the district refused to answer the question.

When the Progress Times filed a formal public information request, La Joya ISD released a statement instead.

“The information used to calculate ‘the natural end of year teacher educator turnover’ was the teacher starting pay of $55,000 plus fringe benefits multiplied by the average teacher turnover,” according to the statement.

After the Progress Times threatened to file a complaint with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, the district released a document titled “Potential Cost Savings for 2023-2024” on March 24.

The document showed that La Joya ISD had estimated 22 elementary school teachers, 76 middle school teachers and 34 high school teachers would resign or retire when the school year ended. Eliminating the positions would reduce payroll costs by nearly $9.3 million.

It also suggested La Joya ISD could save another $4.7 million by eliminating 20 positions at West Academy, 24 positions at Leo J. Leo Elementary School and 25 positions at Rosendo Benavides Elementary School.

The school board, though, decided not to close Leo Elementary or Benavides Elementary. And while La Joya ISD moved forward with a plan to merge West Academy with the College and Career Center, Saenz said the estimate is no longer accurate.

Saenz said that La Joya ISD doesn’t plan to lay off any teachers. The document simply estimated how many teachers may resign or retire — and how much La Joya ISD could save by not replacing them.

“The number of teachers was identified based on the teacher-to-student ratio and the overages that we currently have as a district,” according to the document. “Human Resources worked with Executive Directors to identify the overages in each area. This will be taken care of through natural teacher turnover.”

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