AUSTIN (KXAN) - The Austin school board had a plate full of budget cuts to hash out during a special work session Monday night. First up was the facilities task force charged with finding ways the district can save money on buildings. Board President Mark Williams thanked them for their difficult job and offered an apology.
"It should never get personal but I think it did a little bit and for that I'm sorry," said Williams.
The two task force co-chairs, who have struggled to keep the peace after the announcement of school closure options, emphasized how difficult and emotional the year long process has been.
"Yes there was a very strong, vocal and I very much understand a group of task force members who didn't fell comfortable signing onto that," said Janet Mitchell, task force co-chair. "And we discussed it at least and like all task forces we operated on a consensus basis and got head nods and said 'ok, we need to do our charge' and as one task force member said sort of take our Castor oil."
The task force co-chairs and a representative with the consulting firm who helped in the process outlined a draft of their 10-year facilities master plan including doing away with around 100 portables, closing or consolidating up to nine schools and building five new schools to handle the growth.
Mitchell also said their number one recommendation is that any future moves to close schools first be led by a process that involves the community.
"We have 25-percent of our schools that are underutilized," said Janet Mitchell, task force co-chair. "That didn't happen overnight that didn't happen in the last three years and the community was completely caught off guard by that reality and by the potential inefficiencies of their facilities."
Also on the table at Monday night's work session, were the more than 1,000 potential job cuts that could affect more than 100 campuses.
A 32-page document released Friday outlines 1,012 campus and central office positions administrators selected to do away with.
"It's a scary situation," said Emily Hersh. "A whole bunch of people have jobs on the line. We need to get organized and talk to our State legislators. They need to see how their decisions are affecting educators and children."
Hersh is a librarian for Bailey Middle School and joined several other librarians to stand up against the potential cuts.
"Every department in the district is now affected by job cuts," she said.
On January 24th, the school board voted to cut 485 positions district-wide . There were cuts in several departments at that time. Librarians were initially on the list, but were later saved. Secondary school librarians were not.
But, on Monday night, the board discussed reinstating those librarians, and instead eliminate 34 library clerk positions as part of the new proposal.
According to Michael Houser, the chief Human Capital Officer, every year there are normally about 500 positions available with AISD. But, this year the board got the word that somewhere between 150 and 200 of these potential cuts will actually be resolved through attrition or vacancies. That means about 800 people could possibly be laid off and will have to find employment elsewhere.
Houser says if by March 25th, those looking to retire will give their notification, it will help with the district better determine who could lose their job.
Houser mentioned the conversation with those affected by potential job cuts will happen in the next few days.
Board members also discussed how the cuts would affect class size, and mentioned the reductions in staff would not greatly affect individual class sizes.
"With the list just posted Friday night, I think there are teachers everywhere that don't even know what's going on yet. And I bet there will be a lot more teachers getting more organized by the next meeting, definitely," she said.
Beyond the cuts discussed on Monday night, Dr. Meria Carstarphen talked about her trip last week to Washington D.C. She found out there could be additional 10 to 20 percent in cuts from the federal government. That could mean an additional amount of cuts in the amount of $5 million for the Austin school district, which were not yet figured into the current crisis.
Dr. Carstarphen followed that message to the board with, "The bad news just keeps piling up.
An internal job fair is expected, so those affected by the job cuts could possibly fill positions that are coming open, or currently open. However, the board made it clear that there would more than likely still be layoffs.
The school board will vote on staffing recommendations February 28th.
A final draft of the task force Facilities Master Plan is expected to the board by March 7th, with a vote on the recommendations March 28th.
The expected winter weather has delayed initial construction work on MoPac until the rain and cold temperatures pass through.
Family and friends held a vigil Wednesday at the State Capitol in hopes that a Bastrop man can win a new trial.
An unusually cold blast of arctic air arriving early this morning will be followed by an increasing chance of freezing drizzle/rain and sleet by Friday morning.
The HealthCare.gov website is working more smoothly for central Texans.
City leaders in West Lake Hills discussed the ongoing concern with the city's water system Wednesday night. The problems arise when water is needed most; fighting fires.
Federal, state and local authorities on Wednesday arrested 15 people and seized 70 firearms in raid on a methamphetamine operation based in Burnet County.