AISD superintendent: Staff layoffs are a final resort, pushing for TEA forgiveness

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Independent School District leaders admitted staff layoffs are possible if enrollment numbers don’t increase. However, the district is searching for solutions to ease the financial burden in other ways.

In a one-on-one with AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde on Wednesday, she wanted to reassure her employees that laying off staff would be a last resort. She proposed earning back lost income through attrition, resignations and retirements, instead.

“Yes, we are in for having to make some cuts. We will wait until the very end for it to ever be people,” Elizalde said. “We want to be grounded in reality and the true picture. But at the same time, we will work throughout the year to keep us from having to be in that situation.”

This course correction comes after Monday’s board meeting, when AISD’s Chief Business Officer Larry Throm reported student enrollment is down by more than 5,000.

That could cost almost $50 million in lost funding for the district based on average daily attendance numbers.

Throm says if enrollment doesn’t improve, an estimated 232 teachers and staff could be laid off.

“We don’t want to alarm anybody, but these are facts. We will wait to see in another two weeks or week. We are taking attendance daily to see if we can improve on these numbers,” he said.

Elizalde said a lot of districts in Texas are dealing with the same problem of lost enrollment. And she’s correct.

KXAN asked other local school districts for their total enrollment numbers compared to this time last year. While not everyone was able to share precise numbers based on the exact date, they were able to at least share a snapshot of 2019 compared to 2020.

Round Rock had the second largest deficit behind AISD with a loss of approximately 2,500 students.

Manor ISD lost close to 400, Georgetown ISD more than 300 students, Eanes ISD and Leander ISD around 200 students. Dripping Springs ISD was the only district to report back an increase of nearly 50 students.

Matt Pope, the Chief Transformation Officer for the E3 Alliance, a regional, data-driven collaboration of education experts and personnel in central Texas, said districts in the area are reporting a 62% decline of preschool-aged children within the public school system.

For this reason, Elizalde said she is gathering with other superintendents to discuss pushing back against the state and call for more aid. She wants the Texas Education Agency to forgive public schools for enrollment loss for the entire year, not just the first few weeks.

“The pandemic didn’t just hit us for the first two six weeks. It’s going to hit us for at a minimum, the entire school year,” Elizalde said.

The financial implications of not meeting the planned school district budget are great. Pope said that school budgets are finalized well before the year begins and helps plan the calendar, staffing and programs on campus. When the enrollment is drastically different than what was expected, cuts need to be considered.

“Every district is trying to do the best they can to serve every child. When you have less dollars or less revenue coming in based off of enrollment, you are going to have to cut somewhere,” Pope said.

While Pope said that some Texas lawmakers are already eyeing education-focused bills for the 2021 legislative session, which would help identify students with problematic attendance records, he said it’s better for local districts to consider policy changes to enact the changes they need to see to help their enrollment issues.

“I think it is very reasonable for us to expect that and at a minimum, we should have some dialogue with the state and the Texas Education Agency with this topic,” Elizalde said.

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