Static: Wednesday, May 04, 2005
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Sharing the Pain

Joe Ross has just found out that the distance between hero and hated in the Fort Worth school district is about the width of a consultant’s report. With 992 Fort Worth students for each administrator (compared to comparable districts’ average of 1,324) and a projected deficit of $23 million, Ross, the district’s interim superintendent commissioned Austin-based consulting firm MGT to take a hard look at the district’s top-heavy administration to see about cutting some of those $100,000-plus jobs. Ross was a hero among the lower-paid employees — until the report came back last month. Now he’s the devil incarnate. “Your ‘aw shucks’ routine won’t work with us anymore,” United Educators Association executive director Steven Poole told him at a board meeting last week. “Your words ring hollow.”
Instead of cutting back at the top — where only two of the 11 assistant supers’ jobs were put on the chopping block — the report recommended taking the axe to hundreds of low-wage jobs (104 secretaries for example) scattered throughout the district and eliminating long-standing contracts for service employees such as cafeteria workers and custodians. Many such workers see contracts as their only protection against benefit cutbacks and “outsourcing” of their jobs
News of the report — spread by UEA, the area’s largest school employee union — meant it was SRO at last week’s board meeting, as more than 200 protestors packed the room. In all, 47 speakers shot arrows at Ross and the board for trying to put the weight of fixing the district’s financial mess on the lowest-paid employees. “[We] did not steal $16 million” in the bidding scam that sent two men to prison last year, said Ronnie Jackson, a 17-year custodian, “but now you want to use us to fix this problem.”
Poole took aim at the district’s recent real estate losses of more than $4 million: “Your employees did not buy Motheral Printing Company or Temple Beth El,” he said, “but you’re making them pay for ’em.”
Ross told Static he wasn’t surprised at the employees’ angst. But not to worry, he said — his staff will get input from UEA president Larry Shaw and others in drafting new employment policies. “We are going to assure that all employees’ rights are protected ... and their benefits will stay in place,” Ross said. No one is going to be fired, he said, least of all the secretaries. “We can’t function without them.”
“We got his attention,” Shaw said.

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