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Bottom-up Cuts Stretching Texas School Labor Thin

October 18, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - There's a growing labor crisis in Texas schools, as districts respond to sweeping reductions in state education aid. From Corpus to Dallas, many districts have chosen to lay off some of their lowest wage earners, such as custodians and cafeteria workers.

In Dripping Springs, teachers now have 15 minutes to clean their own classrooms after school. San Antonio's custodians don't arrive until late in the school day, so food service workers there put kitchen duties on hold while mopping up lunchroom spills.

Rachel Martinez, executive vice president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, says the layoffs are tough on employees, but they also affect pupils.

"Our environments aren't conducive to learning, you know, free of viruses and communicable diseases. There's spills and upchucks, and they don't have the capability to have that cleaned properly and immediately."

She says she's also worried about workers being injured trying to perform duties for which they weren't trained, or simply trying to keep up with an increased workload. San Antonio custodian crews have largely been moved to off-campus pools, with each janitor responsible for cleaning about 30 percent more space than formerly.

Martinez thinks districts have been making short-sighted decisions that protect higher-paid administrators at the expense of lower wage earners.

Collective bargaining isn't allowed in Texas, which means there aren't many opportunities for employees to offer recommendations, according to Martinez.

"And it's unfortunate, because we've got great, loyal people that are taxpayers themselves of the local school district, with great solutions on where the cuts could happen."

District representatives say the layoffs and consolidations are necessary, and that they are preferable to teacher firings.

Since the Legislature divided the education funding cuts into two phases, Martinez expects to see a new level of strain on schools next fall.

"You know, all of these cuts have surfaced so fast, it's really overwhelming right now. So, I can imagine next year is probably going to be a pretty tough year for our students and our communities."

The San Antonio Alliance recently filed a safety grievance with the district on behalf of its food service workers.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX