By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
When Killeen Independent School District administrators revealed earlier this year that jobs would be cut in the face of a looming revenue shortfall, Tammy Hench and Rhonda Brown certainly paid attention.
Still, both KISD employees thought their positions would be safe.
A music teacher and assistant band director at Killeen High School, Hench was about to finish her 11th year in KISD. On her most recent evaluation, she had been informed she was an "asset to the district."
Brown, on the other hand, had even more tenure: 16 years total, the last five as an instructional specialist at Shoemaker High School.
But despite their confidence, Hench and Brown would soon discover that their names were in fact on the list of employees being laid off - or as the process is formally described, proposed for "nonrenewal of term contract" due to a "reduction in force."
"I don't know if it's really even hit me yet," Hench said Wednesday. "I told my mom, 'I haven't even cried over this yet.' Maybe that last week of school it will all finally hit me."
Brown described her discovery of the news as "being blindsided."
"When they told me, I was just like, 'wow, OK,'" Brown said. "What else can you do?"
A new reality
The two women are not alone in the reality they are now facing. Beyond the more than 150 existing personnel positions being shed in KISD, districts across the state are implementing layoffs in response to the grim - some would say draconian - revenue cuts proposed in Austin. With the state's deficit estimated in excess of $20 billion over the next biennium, lawmakers are in the process of hashing out budget bills that call for upwards of $7 billion in cuts to public eduction alone. The end result is very much in the air, but according to those who closely follow education, the outlook - especially for teachers - does not appear promising.
"There are a number of different angles to all this," said Amy White, a veteran teacher from Abilene and current director of member services for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "Obviously, the individuals who were nonrenewed were working for their districts and those jobs now have to be absorbed somehow by those who are left behind. There is a lot of anxiety among those who are coming back in the fall and not really knowing how all this is going to play out."
White, continued, indicating that the psychological impact on those who are actually being fired is less tangible, but still a very real concern for the profession.
"When you are in education, that's what you're focused on," White said. "You truly believe this is how you're going to begin and end your career; working with students. The situation we are in now though has really thrown a lot of veteran educators into a tailspin, because we never would have believed this could happen."
A native of Minnesota, Hench earned a music eduction degree from the University of South Dakota and taught in her home state for three years before being recruited to KISD. After arriving, she worked for a time at both Ellison and Shoemaker high schools, then transferred to KHS six years ago, where she has led the winter and color guard teams and taught music classes for the International Baccalaureate program. The success of the winter guard is one accomplishment she takes pride in, the most recent example being a silver medal at the Texas Color Guard Circuit state championship in Pearland. Hench said that because her job involves so many hours in rehearsals and competitions outside of class, she has been able to connect with many of her students in a special way. That aspect is what she said she will miss most.
"It's kind of hard for them (students) too," Hench said. "I have some kids I've known for three or four years and some who are coming back next year. It doesn't just affect the person they cut, but everyone around them."
As for what her future holds, the KISD teacher said she will finish out the year and then move to Sioux Falls, S.D., to look for work. Hench said she is hopeful a teaching job will develop, but in order to have a safety net, she has also applied at a soon-to-open casino.
"It's is scary because I've been a teacher for 14 years and now it's like I have to start all over," Hench said. "It's resumes and all that so it's like 'oh my gosh.' And then just the idea that everybody is having the same problem all over with teaching. I am asking myself 'what if I don't find another teaching job?'"
Brown has been in the Killeen area for more than 20 years and watched her three children graduate from KISD schools. When she first joined the district, she took did so as special education teacher. Eight years later, Brown shifted into a new role as a special education facilitator before being hired as an instructional specialist at Shoemaker. The idea of one day becoming a principal was on her mind, she said, but in the mean time she found her duties working with first-year teachers very satisfying.
Brown said a big part of the instructional specialist job is acting as a "cheerleader" for teachers who are struggling with the pace or pressure of work. Since learning that her contract was not being renewed, however, Brown acknowledged it has not been easy continuing to be the cheerleader.
"Because I have to continue my work, I can't have a pity party," Brown said. "I can't do that. I've got to maintain and continue to do my job, but it's tough. I don't know if it is tougher for me because I've done 16 years and there are friendships and the investment I've put into KISD, or if it's tougher for that first-year teacher who is being let go. I don't know, but it is tough and it is awkward."
Brown said that although she plans to remain in Killeen, she is considering exploring alternative career options. She says she still wants to work with students and teachers, but may try and do so through seminars or more of a consulting role. The impact on Shoemaker as a result of her position being cut is not something she says she can dwell too hard on.
"I'm in a weird place," she said. "I can't invest a lot emotionally into what happens when I leave. I just have to trust that when I'm not there, that whatever good I was doing, there will be someone to pick up the ball and run with it."
Contact Andy Ross at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468. Follow him at Twitter at KDHeducation.