AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, but its largest school district continues to lose students.

Over the last five years, enrollment in the Austin Independent School District has decreased, and now they are hoping to draw people back.

“There is more competition, families have more options,” said Alejandro Delgado, executive director of student enrollment and advocacy at Austin ISD. “Not only more choices with charter schools, but also with our surrounding districts.”

Delgado’s charge is to stop the decline and get more families to enroll their kids in AISD.

“It has been a challenging year,” Delgado said.

In AISD’s budget for next school year, approved by the Board of Trustees on Thursday, staff pay raises are tied to an enrollment increase. Staff members will get a 2% pay bump if the district hits an enrollment target of 77,351 students by the fall. More than 2,000 students will have to enroll in AISD in order for the raise to happen.

Delgado has a tall task ahead of him, not just getting kids back who left the district in 2020 because of the pandemic, but also addressing issues that are leading to the decrease in enrollment.

“While there are more families, they tend to be younger and not with kids and so the affordability, the gentrification is really impacting our schools,” Delgado said.

In the 2016-17 school year the district had more than 83,200 students, this last year 2020-21 school year there were only about 75,000 students.

AISD enrollment over the past five years:

  • 2016-2017: 83,270
  • 2017-2018: 82,766
  • 2018-2019: 81,346
  • 2019-2020: 79,789
  • 2020-2021: 75,075

“Over time, we are going to be implementing new strategies and the culture here in the district to increase enrollment,” Delgado said.

For now, they are hoping programs like Operation Reconnect will work. The door-to-door neighborhood walk allows parents and teachers to engage and recruit families back to AISD.

“Part of Operation Reconnect, one of the things we haven’t done in the past is our parent support specialist has hosted 50 enrollment clinics across the city,” Delgado said.

There is no quick fix for the problem Delgado said, but building relationships and getting back to a normal school year should help.

“There are always opportunities to get better and there are opportunities in Austin ISD. There are opportunities here to get better and better serve our families,” Delgado said.

Operation Reconnect will be starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. This door-to-door walk will be held in Dove Springs in southeast Austin.