ETX teacher risks losing job to run for school board - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

ETX teacher risks losing job to run for school board

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Patrice Coulter Patrice Coulter
WINONA, TX (KLTV) -

One East Texas teacher is risking her job because she says her school district needs her help.

Patrice Coulter has taught for 24 years. Eighteen of those years have been in Winona, where she currently works as a high school math teacher. But now, she's running for the Winona School Board - and if she wins, a state agency says she'll have to give up her job.

Coulter says she's always loved to teach.

"The bottom line is, I love my students. And when the light bulb comes on for them, it just makes it worthwhile," she said.

But the Winona School Board is considering implementing a reduction in force plan, a statewide policy that would allow the district to eliminate, curtail, or restructure programs as they see fit.

First-year Winona superintendent Denise Shetter said in an interview in March that the district won't decide on which programs will be restructured until the second week of May.

In December, the board was presented with options for areas, like transportation or maintenance, where they might be able to cut expenditures.

At a packed meeting in February, the board named the programs they are proposing be changed. They include elementary ESL and resource and training classes, the middle school technology program, and looking at personnel changes in the high school's math, English, and business departments and at campus and district administration positions.

In a March interview, Superintendent Denise Shetter told us she's recommending the plan to help the district get a better grip on its finances. She said the district's run a deficit budget the last four years, and personnel is their largest expense.

Coulter disagrees about the state of the district's financial problems, and said she decided to run for the board because she's afraid her job is on the line.

"I've been outspoken, and I've expressed my concerns," she said. "And I did it because a lot of other people can't afford to do it, because they can't afford to risk their job and I knew I could. I don't want to risk my job, but I'm able to survive without the job if I have to."

She's risking her job because the Texas Education Agency's policy states that "the positions of public school teacher and trustee for the same district are legally incompatible. A teacher may run for school board in the district where he or she teaches. However, if the teacher wins the election, the teacher must give up the teaching position."

A TEA representative told us today that the policy is in place because it's seen as a conflict of interest for a teacher to teach and serve on the school board in the same district. That's because the school board sets any number of school wide policies, including the salary schedule.

Coulter knows it's up to the voters now, and says she just wants what's best for a school district she's lived in for nearly 40 years.

"It just breaks my heart to leave my students, because that's kind of what I live for, I guess, is to help them," Coulter said. "But if I can't do that, then running for the board means I can still help them."

We reached out to Winona ISD for comment on this story, but they declined.

The Winona School Board is expected to announce their final decision about implementing the reduction in force plan at least ten days before school is out in May.

The Winona School Board election is Saturday, May 11.

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