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Education

Austin ISD Re-Examines Budget Deficit

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As school board members at the largest district in Central Texas gather tonight to talk about fixing elementary school overcrowding and improving grades at the worst performing schools, they’ll have something else to consider: the Austin Independent School District’s budget next year.

AISD financial chief Nicole Conley-Abram, who recently received an award from the state for budget transparency, will lay it all out for board members tonight.

Bottom line? The district is still looking at a projected deficit this school year of $35.6 million. And an additional $20 million deficit next year. That adds up to more than $55 million over the biennium. (Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the years corresponding to the shortfalls as 2012-13 and 2013-14.  We regret the error.)

The reductions are primarily the result of state budget cuts in the last legislative session, and expectations for continued reductions in future sessions. Lawmakers reduced the state's public education spending by about $4 billion.

AISD’s money situation could be worse than the projections, or maybe it could be better. The deficit projections are based on a set of assumptions, such property values increasing by 1 percent, and almost 1,000 extra children enrolling in school next year.

Superimpose on all of this an already reduced workforce from last year’s staffing cuts, plus the increasing academic demands from the state’s incoming new test system called STAAR, and the AISD board members – unpaid volunteers elected to govern the district – are left with a huge challenge.

Staffing costs are the most expensive budget item in a school district, and usually account for close to 80 percent of the total operations budget. Conley-Abram will explain to board members tonight that the administration is “still reviewing” staffing levels of administrators at the central office on West 6th Street.

No votes are scheduled at tonight’s board meeting, because it is a work session. But board members can still give some guidance to Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. Meetings are usually webcast here or broadcast on Time Warner Cable channel 22.