AISD $1 billion budget goes under public review

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Teacher pay raises and tax cuts are part of the Austin Independent School District’s $1 billion budget. They held the first of five community budget meetings Tuesday night. A little more than a dozen parents, employees and students showed up to weigh in on the plan before the school board approves it in August.

There were even some students in the crowd Tuesday night, trying to take in all the numbers.

“AISD definitely seems to be running low on cash, and we’re having to dip into our savings,” said Bowie High School student Nathan Alvarez Olson. “It doesn’t look like budgeting will be easy in the years to come.”

School budgeting is not exactly their area of expertise, but they’ve seen first-hand what cuts can do.

“Before, we had Latin and German,” said Olson. “But now, we only have Spanish and French, so now we only have two language options.”

Olson and his classmates came to the meeting and took notes for an Advanced Placement Government class assignment. By the end, they had a better grasp on where Austin ISD stands.

It’s something the district’s chief financial officer says might be hard to understand for those who miss out on these community meetings.

“I want to show them where the money goes, what our financial situation is, and how we plan on addressing and balancing our budget in the out-years because it will mean tradeoffs,” said Nicole Conley, AISD CFO.

These meetings are also a chance for the district to listen and see what it is that these students would like to see.

“Well, most of our hallways don’t have air conditioning, and I know that’s a major concern for a lot of students here,” said Bowie High School student Jade Fabello.

It’s definitely a budget item for the district to consider.

One of the big budget items involves employees raises. Instead of a one-time pay increase, the district proposes to offer teachers who have five years or more experience a 3 percent raise and all other staff a 1.5 percent increase. Many were hoping for 5 percent, but district officials said they were struggling with this year’s budget because they expect to receive $12.5 million less from the state in operating revenue and because enrollment is expected to be down by nearly 600 students.

While raises are in the budget for this year, the 2016 budget is already considering job cuts.

“We will implement the cuts through attrition, so folks who were naturally leaving the system, their positions, we wouldn’t fill those positions. We are looking at positions outside of the classroom,” said Conley.

Right now, the district doesn’t have an exact number of job cuts. They are also looking at possibly changing the employee healthcare coverage for the 2016 budget.

The budget is also balancing recapture dollars to the state. Conley projects recapture will go up $67 million, which amounts to the district paying more in recapture than they collect in new tax revenue.

“It’s very hard to articulate to taxpayers, ‘Yes, your tax bill is going up, but the most substantial part is the school district. But it’s not your local school district that are benefiting from those new increases in tax collection,'” said Conley.

Almost one-third of every tax dollar collected goes to the state. Still, the district is proposing to lower its tax rate by two pennies that is not subject to recapture.

The district will have five meetings with the public

  • Tuesday, May 12, from 6-8 p.m. at Bowie High School, 4103 Slaughter Lane
  • Monday, May 18, from noon-1:30 p.m. at Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy, 7414 Johnny Morris Road
  • Wednesday, May 20,* from 6-8 p.m. at Carruth Administration Center Board Room, 1111 W. Sixth St.
  • Wednesday, May 27, from 6-8 p.m. at Perez Elementary School, 7500 S. Pleasant Valley Road
  • Thursday, May 28, from noon-1:30 p.m. at Doss Elementary School, 7005 Northledge Drive
  • Tele-Town Hall: Watch on AISD’s Channel 22, livestream at austinisd.org or call in at 512-414-9922.

The AISD board has to approve the new budget by August.

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