Teachers, parents and former students packed the conference room inside the Waco ISD Administration building Wednesday.
A special school board meeting was called to address teacher layoffs announced last Friday. According to the school district, the layoffs are necessary in the face of an $8.5 million budget shortfall.
"We've got teachers that are torn up about this. We've got parents that are angry, sad, and we've got students that are making signs," Waco's Texas State Teachers Association President Tony Uzzell said.
Initially, the district said more than 200 positions, primarily teachers, would be impacted.
Waco ISD’s Superintendent Bonny Cain said over the last several days they’ve gotten the number down to 180, made up mostly of teachers who are under probationary contracts.
Uzzell said many of these teachers are within their first three years of teaching.
"After years of sacrifice and years of struggle in college and professionally trying to get to be the best teachers they can be, and finally getting, in a lot of cases, their dream job, now they're being told basically, ‘We don't have room for you. We don't have money to pay you,’" he said.
As the meeting was called to order, the superintendent made a recommendation she called difficult but fiscally responsible.
It was a recommendation also difficult for school board members like David Schleigher to hear.
"Of course I can see in your faces and read in your names all of the suffering that so many of you are going through," he said.
It was a recommendation all school board members eventually voted in favor of, but not before plenty of parents and former students took to the podium to express their concerns.
"It hurts when I get a text message from my daughter Friday afternoon, you know saying her Spanish teacher is one of those," parent Barbara Powell said.
Some questioned whether other options were looked at before teacher layoffs were considered.
Cain said the school district will be looking at other cuts that can be made. She hopes it will allow them to rehire more than 90 percent of the teachers impacted by the layoff.
Some of possible cuts include a reduction or freeze in salaries, consolidation of campuses, cuts to programs or reduction in benefits.
If all goes well, Cain said only 23 teachers will lose their jobs, including 15 teachers who would not have had their contract renewed regardless of the budget.
Uzzell said unless the larger problem is addressed, school districts will have to continue making these difficult decisions in the future.
"It's time to get the message through to those people in Austin that, if they're not willing to fix public education, if they're going to make us fire teachers, maybe we should look for people to hire down there," she said.
The district said they were forced to hand out layoff notices because the current law states public schools have to provide written notice to its employees, 45 days before the last day of instruction if their contract was not going to be renewed.
The deadline falls on April 18.