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Education

Austin School Trustees To Vote On Job Cuts, Facilities Master Plan

Carstarphen and Mark Williams - 02-2011 c.jpg
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and school board president Mark Williams at a board meeting in February.

The pink slips have already been sent to hundreds of employees in the Austin Independent School District. Tonight, the nine men and women on the AISD board of trustees will vote on whether to officially enact those job cuts. At the same time, a year-long process to develop a master plan for school district facilities will reach its culmination when board members are asked to approve the 10-year plan.

Both issues are highly contentious because of their broad implications for employees, students, and parents.

The layoffs, intended to help close a projected $94 million shortfall at AISD, would mean a loss of livelihood for more than 800 employees. The job cuts plan called for the elimination of 1,153 jobs, but AISD human resources chief Michael Houser told the Statesman that at least 329 of those positions had been "resolved."

That includes 34 vacancies that will not be filled and 295 employees who have accepted new positions within the district or have retired or resigned, Houser said.

The job cuts have, in some cases, prompted students to try to save their teacher's positions.  For example, the dismissal of the Latin teacher at L.B.J. High School's Liberal Arts and Science Academy (whose wife was also laid off) led alumni and students to launch this effort to restore the program.

Meanwhile, a process to develop a 10-year master plan to manage the school district's many buildings and other facilities could come to an end tonight. Staff is recommending the school board adopt this 311-page document tonight.  The plan has come under fierce criticism from some parents who bristled at its recommendation to close eight elementary schools and one middle school as part of an effort to consolidate classroom resources.  

School district leadership has made clear its intention not to close schools, at least not next school year, as long as the budget deficit does not crawl substantially higher than the current estimate of $94 million.

Nevertheless, several task force members felt strongly enough about not closing schools that they produced this minority report urging the school board to avoid campus closures by cutting costs at the administrative office and evaluating the use of AISD's non-campus properties.

Austin ISD's chief financial officer, Nicole Conley-Abram, has said in repeated budget presentations that general administration accounts for $17.3 million of AISD's maintenance and operations budget, or about 2.5 percent.  

At the center of efforts to cut costs and shore up resources is Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who admitted at a budget hearing last week that she never expected to be enacting painful cost-saving measures when she transitioned to Austin from the school district in St. Paul, MN less than two years ago.

"I've had a couple of curves thrown my way," Carstarphen said in a press briefing with reporters last week. "It's going to be hard and we're going to get beat up a lot, but our kids are worth it."

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