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HISD Board of Education approves reduction in force

The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Thursday approved a reduction in force for certain term- and continuing-contract employees.

Trustees approved the two annual reduction in force (RIF) agenda items related to being able to execute a reduction in force of teachers and other campus-based employees, as well as certain central office employees who hold term and continuing contracts.

“Approving a RIF is something we do every year, but this year is much different because our budget reality is such that we know our workforce will actually be reduced unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory,” HISD Board of Education President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said. “We wanted to make this decision in the most responsible way possible and ensure we minimize the impact to classrooms.”

These agenda items were originally scheduled for consideration at the Board’s February meeting, but trustees voted to delay a vote until March. The updated agenda items that trustees approved exempted employees in critical shortage areas from the RIF. Those include, but are not limited to, secondary math, science, and English, bilingual education, and some special education critical shortage areas. Those critical shortage employees may be reassigned within the district.
The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Thursday approved a reduction in force for certain term- and continuing-contract employees.

Trustees approved the two annual reduction in force (RIF) agenda items related to being able to execute a reduction in force of teachers and other campus-based employees, as well as certain central office employees who hold term and continuing contracts.

“Approving a RIF is something we do every year, but this year is much different because our budget reality is such that we know our workforce will actually be reduced unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory,” HISD Board of Education President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said. “We wanted to make this decision in the most responsible way possible and ensure we minimize the impact to classrooms.”

These agenda items were originally scheduled for consideration at the Board’s February meeting, but trustees voted to delay a vote until March. The updated agenda items that trustees approved exempted employees in critical shortage areas from the RIF. Those include, but are not limited to, secondary math, science, and English, bilingual education, and some special education critical shortage areas. Those critical shortage employees may be reassigned within the district.

In the upcoming school year, staffing at the campus level and within central office departments will be impacted by budget and staffing changes aimed at increasing equity across the district. Changes in funding models will impact individual campuses differently. Some campuses will lose staff, necessitating a reduction in force, while other campuses will gain staff.

The need for a reduction in staff in the upcoming school year is also due to the anticipated reduction in revenues because of the potential decline in property values as a result of Hurricane Harvey. A decline in property value will decrease district revenue from property taxes.

The board also approved the scheduling of a series of Board workshops concerning budget development, including centralization and decentralization models. The workshops will include information concerning per-unit allocation (PUA) and full-time equivalent (FTE) models. This workshop is at the request of the Board in the interest of transparency, equity, and good stewardship of public resources. The first workshop is scheduled for March 22 at 11 a.m. The second is to be determined.

 

US hiring surge last month pulls in flood of new workers

U.S. employers went on a hiring binge in February, adding 313,000 jobs, amid rising business confidence lifted by the Trump administration’s tax cuts and a resilient global economy.

The surprisingly robust hiring, reported by the Labor Department on Friday, was the strongest in 1½ years.

It was accompanied by the biggest surge in 15 years in the number of people either working or looking for work. That kept the nation’s unemployment rate unchanged for a fifth straight month at 4.1 percent.

At the same time, average wage growth slowed to 2.6 percent in February from a year earlier. That was down from January’s revised pace of 2.8 percent, which had spooked investors because it raised fears of inflation.

The hiring boom caught many economists off guard, because they expected a smaller — though still healthy — increase. Job gains typically slow as the unemployment rate falls, because companies run out of workers to hire.

The economy has expanded for 104 straight months, or nearly nine years, the third-largest expansion on record, and hiring often declines as recessions fade further into the past.

Yet job growth has accelerated in recent months. Companies have added an average of 242,000 jobs a month over the past three months, above 2017’s pace of 182,000.

“The February employment report was unambiguously strong, confirming that the U.S. labor market is on fire,” said Michelle Girard, chief U.S. economist at NatWest Markets. “The pace of job growth is gaining momentum — a very impressive development at this stage of the economic cycle.”

The Trump administration’s tax cuts appear to have lifted optimism among consumers and businesses. U.S. employers have also benefited from a strengthened global economy. And consumers are more confident than they have been since 2000.

Investors celebrated the news, sending the Dow Jones industrial average up 390 points in early afternoon trading. The bull market reached its ninth anniversary Friday, with market indexes nearly quadrupling since March 2009.

The muted wage growth is a relief to Wall Street, because faster raises could spur higher inflation and additional interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve.

The picture drawn by Friday’s jobs report is a mixed one for the Fed, which seeks to raise short-term interest rates at just the right pace: enough to forestall inflation but not so fast as to slow economic growth.

The Fed is considered certain to raise rates when it next meets in two weeks. The question is whether it will do so a total of three times this year — or, in light of the job market’s strength and the prospect of a pickup in inflation, four times.

The economy has now gained jobs for 89 straight months, the longest streak on record. That has helped address many of the nation’s long-term problems dating to the Great Recession.

For example, more Americans are coming off the sidelines and looking for work, reversing a trend from the first few years after the downturn when many of the unemployed gave up on the job hunt and stopped looking.

The proportion of adults working or looking for work jumped to 63 percent from 62.7 percent, still far below its pre-recession levels in 2007. But it has stabilized in the past three years, even as millions of baby boomers have retired. That suggests that enough younger people are stepping in to offset those retirements.

In fact, the proportion of adults in their prime working years — defined as ages 25 to 54 — with jobs rose sharply to 79.3 percent, just a few tenths of a point below its pre-recession level.

Economists have found that figure is closely related to wage growth: The higher it rises, the more employers have to offer higher pay to find the workers they need. That suggests that wage growth may accelerate soon.

Higher-paying, blue-collar industries reported some of the biggest increases. Construction firms added 61,000 jobs, a figure that may have been inflated by relatively warm weather last month. Still, that is the biggest gain for construction since 2007.

Manufacturing companies added a solid 31,000 jobs. Retailers added 50,000, the most in two years, though that figure was probably inflated by the fact that stores laid off fewer temporary workers after the holidays because they hired fewer than in previous years. Financial services gained 28,000, the biggest increase since 2005.

In the meantime, economists are calculating how the Trump administration’s decision Friday to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum might affect the job market.

The Trade Partnership, a consulting firm, estimates that the tariffs could eliminate 145,000 jobs. Still, the administration has opened the door to so many possible exemptions from the tariffs that an accurate estimate is all but impossible.

Gene Peters, chief executive of Rosnet, a restaurant software company, has had to offer higher pay to attract new workers. He is now offering software developers 20 percent more in salary than he did just two years ago.

The company is also paying 75 percent of employees’ health care costs, up from 50 percent. The company, based in Parkville, Missouri, just outside Kansas City, makes data analysis software that helps restaurants track costs and work schedules.

“It’s getting more competitive in this market,” Peters said. “There are more IT jobs and not as many people.”

Black filmmakers make history at the Box Office this weekend

T’Challa still rules the box office four weeks in, even with the fresh rivalry of another Walt Disney Studios release in “A Wrinkle in Time.”

“Black Panther” took the No. 1 spot at the North American box office with $41.1 million according to studio estimates Sunday, leaving another newcomer in its wake. The Marvel and Disney phenomenon crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide this weekend and became the 7th highest grossing domestic release with $562 million. Not accounting for inflation, it’s now passed “The Dark Knight.”

With a marketplace still dominated by “Black Panther,” Disney faced some stiff competition from its own studio in launching Ava DuVernay’s adaption of “A Wrinkle in Time,” which opened in second place with $33.3 million from 3,980 locations. The PG-rated film, which cost around $103 million to produce and stars Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, received mixed reviews from critics (it’s currently at a “rotten” 44 percent on RottenTomatoes) and audiences who gave it a B CinemaScore.

In gauging “A Wrinkle in Time’s” long-term prospects, a somewhat similar comparison could be Disney’s “Tomorrowland,” a PG-rated sci-fi pic with middling reviews and a B CinemaScore which opened to $33 million in the early summer of 2015 and went on to gross $93 million domestically. “Tomorrowland,” however, notably cost nearly twice as much to make as “A Wrinkle in Time.”

But the “Black Panther” effect is the x-factor here. For Disney, it’s a “win all around.”

“When you think about having two films at the top of the box office, it’s definitely a win all around,” says Disney’s worldwide theatrical distribution president Dave Hollis. “We’re feeling good about this start … We’re feeling good about what, for us, is a little family competition between now and (the Easter holiday).”

Hollis says he doesn’t think the studio would have done anything differently regarding “Wrinkle’s” release had they known the scope and longevity of “Black Panther’s” prospects.

“There’s always going to be competition in the marketplace,” he says. “With a tentpole strategy like ours, four weeks of separation is about what we can expect.”

Still, “Black Panther” has devoured the marketplace for a month straight now, leaving all other newcomers in the dust.

The new horror film “The Strangers: Prey At Night,” with Christina Hendricks, took third place with $10.5 million. The Jennifer Lawrence thriller “Red Sparrow” landed in fourth in its second weekend with $8.2 million and the comedy “Game Night” placed fifth with $7.9 million in weekend three.

Hardly any of the new releases, which also included the thriller “The Hurricane Heist” (8th place, $3.2 million) and the dark action comedy “Gringo,” (11th place, $2.6 million) were well-reviewed going into the weekend, save for the limited release independents like “Thoroughbreds,” which made $1.2 million from 549 locations, and Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin,” which opened in four theaters to $181,000.

It also left room for the Academy Award best picture winner “The Shape of Water,” which is also available on home video, to capitalize on its post-Oscars stature. The Fox Searchlight film added 720 theaters and took in in $2.4 million from 1,552 locations, bringing its domestic total to $61 million.

But even though “Black Panther” has helped boost the year to date box office significantly, it’s also proving to be a continued challenge for any other wide release hoping for a piece of the market.

“Every movie that has opened in the wake of ‘Black Panther’ has had its work cut out for it,” says comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “We keep underestimating this film and it just shows no sign of slowing down.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1.”Black Panther,” $41.1 million ($100 million international).

2.”A Wrinkle in Time,” $33.3 million ($6.3 million international).

3.”The Strangers: Prey At Night,” $10.5 million ($140,000 international).

4.”Red Sparrow,” $8.2 million ($15.7 million international).

5.”Game Night,” $7.9 million ($5.4 million international).

6.”Peter Rabbit,” $6.8 million ($4.8 million international).

7.”Death Wish,” $6.6 million ($3 million international).

8.”The Hurricane Heist,” $3.2 million ($1.9 million international).

9.”Annihilation,” $3.2 million.

10.”Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” $2.8 million.

 

Serena Williams: ‘Doctors Aren’t Listening’ So Black Women Are Dying

Serena Williams

Serena Williams makes her return to professional tennis on Thursday, six months after suffering terrifying complications and nearly dying after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia.

The tennis superstar is also speaking up about the need for improved maternal health care, particularly for black women.

“Doctors aren’t listening to us, just to be quite frank,” she told the BBC after a tennis exhibition in New York City on Monday, noting that black women are three times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or childbirth. “It may be time for women to be comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations.”

Williams experienced a pulmonary embolism (blockage that occurs in the lungs) after giving birth via C-section. Because she had had blood clots before, the athlete knew what symptoms to look out for and alerted her doctor as to what was going on. Williams also knew which tests to request.

“I was in a really fortunate situation where I know my body well, and I am who I am, and I told the doctor: ‘I don’t feel right, something’s wrong.’ She immediately listened,” Williams told BBC. “She was great. I had a wonderful, wonderful doctor. Unfortunately a lot of African-Americans and black people don’t have the same experience that I’ve had.”

There’s a lot of pre-judging, absolutely, that definitely goes on. And it needs to be addressed.

Had the tennis superstar not known her body as well as she did and advocated for doctors to listen to her, she might not be here today.

“Because of what I went through, it would be really difficult if I didn’t have the health care that I have ― and to imagine all the other women that do go through that without the same health care, without the same response, it’s upsetting,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of pre-judging, absolutely, that definitely goes on. And it needs to be addressed.”

 

 
The PINNACLE Center is free* for use to Fort Bend and City of Houston residents that are ages 50 and above.
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