Austin schools scrambling to keep special classes amid budget woes

Austin

Austin ISD schools are facing cuts to some language and music programs, and the district blames the state’s recapturing fund and school finance laws that need reform.

AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson says even after a rise in revenue from property taxes of about $116 million in the past year, AISD will still face an estimated $30 million shortfall, due to what’s owed to the state for the “Robin Hood” plan.

“The district is having to make some tough choices and trade-offs with the finite resources that we have that are dwindling every day,” Johnson said. “And, so, we have a number of different needs across the district. Unfortunately, we can’t meet every one.”

Parents at Kealing Middle School were recently told that because of needed budget cuts, Chinese and Guitar would be cut after this school year.

Parents were told some cuts would be made to the school’s Orchestra and English for Language Learners programs, as well.

A number of concerned parents showed up at Kealing’s Campus Advisory Council meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss the changes. 

“I was concerned because it’s one of the main reasons we decided to come here,” said Sharene Wang, whose daughter was planning to begin a Chinese class in the fall.

However, in the meeting, the school’s principal, Kenisha Coburn, told parents she along with school staff and district officials had figured out workarounds to hold off on most of the cuts next year.

Guitar and Chinese classes, along with a staffing position for one of the orchestra instructors, will be assured for next school year. However, Coburn told parents there’s no guarantee they’ll stick around after that.

“If we’re sending millions and millions of dollars to the state, five years from now, this conversation is going to be the norm,” Coburn told parents in the meeting, “And it shouldn’t be. Our kids deserve to have strong Fine Arts programs.”

In the meeting, parents were encouraged to reach out to district officials and state legislators, in order to push for change.

“Our taxes are super high, they go up every year, and it’s frustrating that our programs are getting cut, and the kids can’t take what they want to take or what they need to take,” Wang said, promising she would be reaching out to state lawmakers.

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