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Education

AISD Board Members Face Deadline on Tax Hike Decision

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Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News
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If the Austin school board wants to adopt its budget in June, it has only until May 25 to decide whether to ask for permission to raise property taxes on the November ballot. That’s the timeline the nine trustees will consider at a board work session tonight.

A proposal would cost the owner of an average Austin home an extra $100 a year.

Austin ISD has been trying to get in the habit of adopting its budgets in June, rather than leaving the work until August, just days before the new school year starts. The change would create “considerable benefits”, according to an AISD budget FAQ, because of a one-time accounting change that “effectively generates a two-month expenditure credit for payroll and other liabilities.”

But last year, efforts to shift the budget timeline were thwarted by the uncertainty created when the fiscally austere state legislature reduced education spending by more than $5 billion over two years. AISD opted to wait and see how those cuts would trickle down to its coffers before finalizing its budget.

Now, AISD has another chance to move to a fiscal year forward, but only if school trustees are ready to pull the trigger on a decision to hold a tax rate election in November. For Austin ISD to raise property taxes, it must get voter approval. State law requires that the district first post and publicize a proposed spending plan and hold public hearings. AISD CFO Nicole Conley-Abram says for that to happen in time for June budget adoption, the proposed budget would have to be posted by May 25.

Of course, school trustees could always opt to mull it over some more and delay budget adoption until August. Or they could simply decide not to ask for a tax rate increase this year, something advocated by AISD board member Robert Schneider.

“I think a lot of families are still trying to make ends meet and trying to do with less than they had before,” Schneider said in an interview April 27. “Funding a tax rate election is going to be a struggle for some folks, even though we’re talking $100, $200 [a year].”

The most recent version of AISD’s proposed budget assumes a $31 million deficit. The shortfall would be covered with money from the district’s fund balance, which is an emergency cash reserve that helps AISD maintain its high bond ratings. “I have fairly good confidence that it won’t affect our bond rating,” Conley-Abram told KUT in February.

The tax rate election would mean at least an extra $15 million for the school district each year, much of which would go to funding a three percent pay raise for staff. AISD employees have not received a raise in two years and their salaries rank low compared with other Central Texas districts.

Tonight’s meeting is open to the public, but there’s no “citizen communication” scheduled, which means you won’t be able to address the school board. If you can’t make it down to AISD headquarters at 1111 West 6th Street, you can stream the meeting from AISD’s website. 

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