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AISD Interim Superintendent Stresses Need For Community Engagement

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
AISD Interim Supterintendent Paul Cruz at a school board meeting. At Monday's State of the District, he says the community needs to step up and help AISD solve its financial issues and help the district stay competative.

Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz highlighted the positive during the annual State of the District address on Monday, but he didn’t ignore the district’s problems. 

Cruz called for community involvement from non-profits and foundations to the city of Austin to address challenges.

During the next several years the district expects to lose students.  Sixty-two percent of the district’s students also come from economically disadvantaged households.  Cruz says fewer students’ means the district will get less money from the state, but money is exactly what the district needs –especially to educate lower income students.

“We are working hard to address these challenges and we know we don’t have all the answers," Cruz said. "And we’ll be looking to many of you in this room, our community partners to be part of these conversations.”

One of the people in the room was Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the union representing teachers in the district. He seemed open to the call for help.

"Unless we work with community at large, but not just partners, but people who live in our neighborhoods, we will never solve the problems that face AISD," Zarifis say. 

The teachers union and district administration are often at odds over budget issues, but one place where they can agree is that Austin is sending too much local property tax money back to the state under the state’s school finance system.  Cruz says AISD is expected to send $175 million dollars in property taxes back to the state this year.

“Think about what we could do with 175 million dollars to educate our kids?" Cruz said to the crowd. That number goes up to $300 million dollars by 2018.

Zarifis with Education Austin agreed that it is time to push back.

“Everybody in this room needs to step up and say we’re willing to pay our share, but we have kids and needs too, and teachers and school employees who deserve a raise," Zarifis says. "And I think that’s a really important message to put out there. To not be afraid to put demands on the state.”

Cruz says during the next legislative session, the district plans to advocate for changes to the school finance structure that might ease the burden on Austin ISD.

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