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Austin Mayor Steve Adler Wants Collaboration with Austin ISD

Joy Diaz/KUT
The new Austin mayor says there should be more communication and collaboration between the city and school district.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has a lot on his plate: housing affordability, traffic, and water resources to name a few.

But he wants to tackle another issue: education.

In the past, Austin ISD and City Hall have acted like they live in separate worlds, though they're about a mile away from each other. Like many school districts in Texas, Austin ISD is its own taxing entity. But as the district faces a tough budget forecast, people say there needs to be more collaboration between city and the district. 

Right now, Austin ISD has to return a large portion of its property taxes back to the state under the state's school finance system. Austin is considered a property-wealthy school district, so it returns a certain amount of money to the state each year that is redistributed to poorer school districts in the state. At this point, even if the district wanted to raise taxes, part of that money wouldn't even go to AISD, but back to the state. But that system doesn't apply to the city, and some education advocates believe the city should work with the school district to think creatively about raising additional money for education outside of those parameters. 

During the mayoral campaign, Adler talked about working with the school district to bring in more state and federal money, especially for programs like universal pre-kindergarten. 

"There are few things in this city that impact quality of life and upward mobility as much as education," Adler said in a phone interview. "So, it’s always surprised me that education was not a higher priority of the mayor’s office or city council offices. And I think that it should be."

Adler says he also plans to hire an Education Coordinator who the community can contact about education issues. The person would also focus on working directly with Austin ISD.  At a town hall meeting at KLRU-TV this week, interim Superintendent Paul Cruz said he thinks it’s a good idea.

"We have so much work to do in Austin ISD, I welcome the support and assistance," Cruz said. "That’s something in Austin, people are willing to step up to the plate and help. I say we can do it, but we can’t do it alone."

Cruz is the sole finalist for the permanent superintendent position and the newly inducted school board is expected to offer him a contract by the end of January. 

In the meantime, the city has already started to work with AISD. Late last year, the city of Austin allocated $1.25 million for Austin ISD parent support specialists. They also gave the district $400,000 for after-school programs.

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