Austin ISD town halls begin to hear public input on $65M budget hole

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Independent School District hosted their first town hall meeting Tuesday night to give the public a chance to weigh in as the district grapples with a huge budget shortfall. 

The district will have to decide where to make cuts as it faces a growing deficit and declining enrollment. 

“We are looking at about a $65 million estimated shortfall in our budget this year, again much of that perpetuated by the impact that the school finance system has on Austin ISD,” said Reyne Telles, executive director of communication and engagement for AISD. 

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and community members sat in the cafeteria at Travis Early College High School to participate. AISD handed them all clickers so they could comment in real time and weigh in on different topics related to the budget.  The live poll showed that 36 percent of the participants were students and 36 percent were parents.

District officials say they will make budget decisions keeping in mind that student performance is their top priority. 

Live polling showed the people at the meeting were most concerned about the impacts of school closures or consolidations and boundary changes. They also wanted to make sure teacher and staff salaries were competitive. 

Some of the questions they wanted to be answered were about school closures, transportation, competition from charter schools, and how the Texas legislature might impact the district’s budget.

District officials said they are not considering closing and consolidating magnet school program and they don’t have a list of schools they are looking to close yet. AISD is looking to cut down on some of the money it currently spends on aging facilities and redirect that to other areas of the budget which will more closely impact student performance. 

One parent called for the district to use simpler terms while they explained their budget shortfall issues. “There’s a lot of this talk, this jargon, this language, I don’t undersantad, the staff doesn’t the students don’t,” he said. “I don’t need any more forms, I don’t need any more charts I dont need any more powerpoint presentations, I need cold hard facts.” 

Another parent talked about the difficulties he faces as a working parent on staying up-to-date with what’s going on in the district.

“Right now when they have those meetings, I and try and go and see what has changed, and I really don’t see too much,” he said. 

There will be two more town hall meetings for the AISD budget — one on Thursday, Feb. 21 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Reagan ECHS and another on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

If you can’t make it out to this meeting, you can send the district your thoughts online, head to the AISD wesbite. 

Reyne Telles explained that all these comments — both online and person — will be consolidated and presented to the trustees. 

Draft Budget 

As KXAN previously reported, a draft of suggested budget cuts for the district was discussed last week at an AISD board work session.

This documented suggested: 

  • Realigning and reducing academic and Social Emotional Learning specialists (estimated savings of $2.51 million)
  • Anticipated staffing reductions due to enrollment declines (estimated savings of $3.41 million)
  • Changing the schedules at LASA and LBJ to be consistent with all other high schools (estimated savings of $720,000)
  • Across-the-board cut 5 percent reduction to school supply allocations (estimated savings of $560,000)
  • A revised actuarial foran employee health plan (estimated savings of $8.5 million)
  • Eliminating partial pay for extended leave (this includes maternity leave) (estimated savings of $200,000.)

Telles says the district has decided certain items of importance which will not be touched by these budget cuts.

They include:

  • Full-day Pre-K
  • Deeping the student-to-teacher ratio for elementary schools (Kindergarten through Fourth grade)
  • Career Launch and Early College High School programs
  • Weighted staffing for magnet schools to allow more full-time employees for their special programming 
  • Middle schools and High schools teachers will continue to teach for six of the eight periods in the day to keep time available for professional development. 

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