Austin ISD preliminary budget shows $78 million surplus


AUSTIN (KXAN) — After talking for months about a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall heading into next school year, the numbers have suddenly changed for Austin ISD. 

Its preliminary budget report, which was presented to the school board Monday, shows a $78 million surplus. 

But there’s a catch.

There’s no guarantee the district will ever see the $125 million dollars in savings that it’s penciled in from the state.

“I find it interesting that the district would actually use $125 million in their budget,” said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis. “Because when we go into negotiations, they’re telling us, ‘We can’t assume that’s coming in.'”

However if the school finance reform bill HB 3 doesn’t pass, Austin ISD will be $47 million in the hole and pulling from its reserves to pay the bills.

“We have about a projected $50 million dollar shortfall, so we’re hoping that it’ll make up that difference, but it also gives us some breathing room in terms of the financial pressures that we’re experiencing,” said Nicole Conley, AISD’s Chief of Business and Operations.

Representative James Talarico (D-Round Rock), who serves on the Public Education Committee, said it’s too soon for districts to count on the money.

“Anything can happen in the Texas legislature, and so I wouldn’t bet the house on anything quite yet,” Talarico said. “If I were a school district, I would make contingency plans.”

Austin ISD is taking that advice.

Despite the potential for an influx of money, the district’s preliminary budget also calls for staffing reductions, and eliminates partial pay during extended leave.

It also offers teachers just a one percent pay increase.

Then there’s the ongoing plan to consolidate, repurpose, and close schools.

“Don’t do anything drastic with a person’s livelihood, with their family income, with closing schools in their neighborhoods until we know what we have, then make those determinations,” Zarafis said.

The district is required by state law to pass its final budget in June.

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