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Are Looming Job Cuts At TEA Sign Of Things To Come?

Image by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
Most Texas Education Agency employees work in the Wililam B. Travis building on Congress Ave. near 17th St. A letter to employees from Education Commissioner Robert Scott is promising job cuts at the agency this year.

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott sent a letter to staff this week, welcoming them back to work from the holidays and warning them they might be fired. With state lawmakers ready to begin a legislative session next week that will require closing a budget gap as big as $25 billion or more, is this an impending sign of the pain that will be wrought on Austin's economy?

"I will be making some very difficult decisions on programs and staffing levels at the agency," Scott writes in the letter (posted below). "Some of these decisions will take effect on September 1, 2011, but others will be implemented in the coming weeks."
Scott says he is conducting a review of every position in the Texas Education Agency and promises that "there will be staff reductions."

Travis County has managed to hold a relatively impressive jobless rate during the economic downturn. It now stands at 6.7 percent. But in a Capitol city where government employs 166,400 people, according to the Chamber of Commerce, what will be the local economic consequences if the legislature slashes state government to avoid tax hikes and puts hundreds of public sector employees out of work?

Here's the full letter from Robert Scott, courtesy TEA Communications:

School started in Austin ISD today and it will soon be followed by a legislative session. I hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable holiday season. There is no doubt that this will be a very challenging and, on some days, difficult spring and summer. I have always tried my best to be very clear in my communications with agency staff in both good times and bad. But before I discuss the future of the agency, I would like to take a moment to announce one key staff change. Regrettably, Associate Commissioner Jerel Booker will be leaving the agency to accept a leadership position in the non-profit world, where he will continue to advocate for students and parents. He has my support and respect for the work he has done here and I wish him all the best. Dr. Ann Smisko will assume the Associate Commissioner responsibilities for the educator certification, standards and investigative functions at the agency. Associate Commissioner Barbara Knaggs will assume the responsibility for student and educator initiatives, driver training and health and safety. An updated agency organizational chart will be released next week. As I mentioned, these are challenging times. In addition to the recent 2.5% current fiscal year reduction exercise, the coming legislative budget proposals for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 will require deep budgetary reductions in all agencies of state government. I will be making some very difficult decisions on programs and staffing levels at the agency. Some of these decisions will take effect on September 1, 2011, but others will be implemented in the coming weeks. Because of these pending decisions, I have asked the human resources division to conduct an examination of every position in the agency. These forms will be distributed over the next few days and, upon their return, will give me an opportunity to make a very detailed study of our agency responsibilities and workload. I will not come to any of these decisions lightly. I can only request your patience and your ongoing commitment to serving Texas students and educators. There will be staff reductions at the agency. I will do my best to minimize the impact of these reductions and we will provide assistance to any employees leaving the agency to the absolute best of our ability I am proud of the work we do here. There are difficult times in the history of all organizations. This agency weathers these times and always emerges as a strong force for Texas kids. We will do this again. And we will do this together. Thank you for your unfailing service to Texas kids. Robert Scott

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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