ALEDO (CBSDFW.COM) - Teachers across the state are refusing to wait for lawmakers to fix money problems plaguing hundreds of school districts. Some teachers, along with students and parents, are participating in a letter writing campaign to battle proposed budget cuts.
Some questioned the effectiveness of a letter writing campaign so CBS 11 News took a look at what the “power of the pen” has done in the past.
About 22 miles west of Fort Worth, nestled in what the locals call Bearcat Country, sits the small city of Aledo. The school district serves some 4,600 students and employs about 400 teachers and staff.
The state’s budget shortfall has the Aledo Independent School District facing a deficit between $3 and $6 million. For a district with so few employees, that’s a big deal.
“$3 million. A $50,000 an average salary, that’s 60 employees [lost],” explained Aledo ISD Superintendent Don Daniel.
This isn’t the first time Aledo has been between a rock and a hard place. Last year the district had similar money problems and was poised to layoff 58 teachers and staff. That time, members of the staff volunteered to take a pay cut and saved all but two of those jobs.
Aledo school board member Bobby J. Rigues says it was during that time that the idea of a letter writing campaign was born. “What a better way than to help solve the issue by involving our community,” he said.
Last June in Aledo, a tent was set up in the middle of town and for five days straight citizens promoted an effort that would become known as the Making Education a Priority letter writing campaign.
The letters were addressed to the education finance committee and lawmakers in Austin. The school board also passed a resolution with a simple message: make education a priority. “We ended up with over 2500 letters,” said Daniels. “The community saw the value and started to tell each other.”
The citizens of Aledo had no idea how people would respond to their grassroots effort, but it spread like wildfire. One-by-one school districts adopted the ‘Making Education a Priority’ resolution, sparking something that had never happened before.
“It unified school districts,” explained Rigues. “In the state of Texas, this type of grassroots movement with school districts has never been accomplished before, with a unified voice.”
With more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, that unified voice was a big one. More than half of the districts in the state have now signed on to adopt the resolution.
Denison ISD was among the first to join the campaign, writing 2,500 letters. While the Comstock ISD serves only 200 students, they wrote 100 letters. Carroll ISD held a letter writing campaign in late January and mega-school districts like Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth are also on board.
On January 30 school leaders from around the state delivered more than 8,000 letters to state lawmakers and there are more pouring in.
One letter from a person in Grand Prairie read, “I write this letter not only as a grandparent of children within the Texas public school system but as a Texas citizen.”
School districts continue to adopt the resolution and join the unified voice in hopes lawmakers will hear it.
One educator put it bluntly; “Our Texas constitution states that a free and adequate education must be made available to our children. With all do respect, it doesn’t say if funds are available.”