Decision is final: Austin ISD will no longer allow PTAs to fund staff positions due to equity concerns

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s spring fundraising season for a handful of Austin public schools. Parent Teacher Associations have been hit hard by the pandemic, and some are coming on strong with events aimed at raising money to support their teachers and students.

For a dozen campuses in the Austin Independent School District, certain staff positions depend on PTA fundraising efforts. For several years, schools that tend to be in wealthier parts of town with hefty PTA budgets and high parent involvement, have been able to foot the bill for additional staff members not covered by the AISD budget.

Doss Elementary School in west Austin is holding its virtual Adult Spring Party this Saturday, according to its PTA website. The PTA said it will be raising money to cover “critical Doss staff salaries” which are the group’s “largest and most important budget items.” The Doss PTA assisted the school in funding three part-time positions this school year. According to records provided by AISD, those positions include an ESL Support Specialist, a Math Interventionist, and a Reading Interventionist.

The map below shows each AISD elementary school with a PTA funded position and the number of positions at each school. You can see the majority are along and west of Mopac. Scroll over and click each school to see how many positions they have, according to AISD.

However, on Friday the district told KXAN all Austin ISD PTAs will no longer be able to help fund staff positions anymore.

PTAs feel left out of the decision

The first hint that there could be a change came during a public community meeting on April 29 when someone in the audience asked a question about it. District administrators acknowledged that they were considering stopping the practice due to equity concerns, which was the first time it was addressed publicly.

Jason Stanford, chief of communications and community engagement for AISD, told KXAN that prior to the meeting discussions had already been happening behind the scenes at the administration level as leaders were talking about the district’s missions, vision and goals and working toward equity in how resources were allocated. Those talks had not yet been relayed to campus leaders or PTAs. AISD’s central office told principals May 3, according to Stanford, and information was shared with the principals of the 13 affected campuses in a virtual meeting on May 4.

News then trickled down to the PTA leaders. The impact will be felt the most at Casis Elementary School in west Austin. Their highly organized and influential PTA has already budgeted to pay for nine positions next school year not covered by the AISD budget.

The current and future Casis Elementary PTA presidents, sent a letter to Casis parents on May 12 saying they were recently made aware the district was considering changing the “policy.”

“Despite no direct communication from the district, we have been informed that AISD is intending to eliminate all PTA-funded positions for the 2021-2022 school year,” their letter stated. “We are disappointed that such a decision would be made without any input from the PTAs who fund these positions, the parents whose children benefit from these positions, and the teachers who serve in these roles and whose employment would be impacted by such a decision.”

The letter pointed out that this was coming out three weeks before the end of the school year, after the Casis PTA approved its 2021-2022 budget — which is over $200,000 — and communicated to campus administration that it will be funding the following positions:

  • Innovation Coach
  • Technology Assistant
  • Spanish Teacher
  • Math Specialist (part-time)
  • Two Reading Specialists (part-time)
  • Three Cafeteria Monitors

Casis PTA leadership said they reached out to AISD to express their concerns.

“We are hopeful that AISD will decide to work with PTAs, parents, and teachers to create a more workable solution that doesn’t involve taking away helpful services from our students,” the letter stated.

According to the Casis PTA, the associations are allowed to fund certain positions under certain restrictions, but the school district also has to be willing to accept the donation. For Austin ISD, this extra support became a popular solution among the larger PTAs when massive layoffs were announced in 2011.

AISD Trustee Noelita Lugo, who campaigned on the promise that she would help address inequities across the district, also asked the district about the issue. AISD Chief of Schools Dr. Anthony Mays sent Lugo the following information on May 13:

“Austin ISD does not have a policy related to PTA funds, so there has been no official policy change, as the issue is not so much a legal matter as it is an ethical one — equitable schools. Equitable staffing begins with thoughtful planning around our most disadvantaged campuses and their students, free from externally funded positions that privilege some campuses over others.

Austin ISD spends a considerable amount of time and effort in funding positions based on data and clearly identified needs for its students. If a new need is identified through a review process, the district will work to ensure that the newly identified staff position is funded. We hope that our PTAs will share AISD’s commitment toward staffing practices that support and promote equity across the district.”

Perspective from a low income AISD school

Padron Elementary field day 05142021
Field day at Padron Elementary supported by the PTA (Courtesy: Viri De La Cruz)

One of the many Austin school PTAs that does not fund staff positions, or have the budget for it, is Padron Elementary School. Their campus, located in north Austin on Rundberg Lane, is made up of mostly families living in poverty. Padron’s current PTA President Viri De La Cruz said the annual PTA budget outside of a pandemic is about $10,000, which goes toward a variety of special events throughout the school year for students like movie nights and field days. A portion of the money also goes toward showing love and appreciation to teachers.

De La Cruz said fundraising can be a struggle because families are barely making ends meet as it is, and many parents are working long hours and don’t have time to volunteer or contribute. She also said involvement fluctuates as new families move in, and some parents don’t fully understand the role of the PTA.

De La Cruz said it’s wonderful for the students at other schools who get to benefit from additional staff positions paid for by their PTAs, but said that’s just not the reality for Padron.

“It does put our students at a disadvantage,” De La Cruz said. “But it makes me want to work harder to try to achieve that for our students.”

Where do other districts stand on the issue?

Leander, Round Rock and Eanes school districts all say their PTAs do not fund any staff positions, but their district education foundations do help cover some salaries. The Leander Educational Excellence Foundation covered an additional licensed mental health professional this school year along with college coaches, which are part-time employees.

“We purposely go through our foundation,” said Claudia McWhorter, chief communications officer with Eanes ISD. “We wouldn’t want inequity if one PTA funds more positions than another. EEF helps us secure positions by enrollment, not how much money is raised by the campus.”

The Austin Ed Fund, which raises money from individuals and businesses in the community to help support AISD, said the organization does cover the salaries for about 20 staff positions in Austin ISD thanks to grants and donations — mostly in the academic and social-emotional learning realm.

The practice of PTAs funding staff positions is also prohibited in the district where AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde came from. The Dallas Independent School District provided the following statement from its human resources department:

We do not allow campus PTA or other private donations to fund campus positions. There are ramifications on equity for our students overall as well as potential major implications for federal comparability requirements if privately funded campus based FTEs were allowed.  The Dallas Education Foundation does not fund campus positions for reasons similar to Dallas ISD in terms of equity.

This story is still developing. KXAN Investigator Erin Cargile will be updating it throughout the day as she hears from those impacted by the decision. You can watch the on-air story on KXAN News at 6 p.m. If you would like to reach out to Erin, email her at erin.cargile@kxan.com.

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