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Austin ISD would lay off hundreds of staff to give teachers raises, under proposed budget

A student walks down the hallway at Travis High School.
Jordan Vonderhaar for KUT
Austin ISD is being forced to make dramatic spending cuts.

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Hundreds of jobs will be cut from Austin ISD's central office to give teachers raises and to cover the district's mammoth recapture payment, under a proposed budget for the next school year.

The district is being forced to make dramatic cuts in part because it's receiving much less money from the state. School districts get money based on how many students are enrolled. Enrollment has been declining steadily since 2015.

“The biggest changes in the budget and reducing our overall expenditures have been with staffing,” said AISD Chief Financial Officer Ed Ramos, who was tasked with making the cuts. “86% of our budget is in people, so to make any huge impacts in reducing our overall expenditures we had to address our overall staffing.”
He said the administration wanted to make these cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, so it proposed laying off 375 people from the central office and other non-teaching jobs. Those layoffs would go into effect this summer. The district has also proposed not replacing some people who have already left.

With those cuts, Ramos said, there would be more money for raises — a priority for the district, which is trying to retain teachers.

The proposed budget would add $1,000 to teachers' base pay and give them a 2% raise overall. The district is also proposing raising the hourly wage for classified workers — such as custodians and teachers assistants — to $16 an hour and raising bus driver pay to $21 an hour.

The proposed budget also sets aside money for Title 1 schools to buy extra instruments, supplies for sports teams and additional classroom supplies.

The looming recapture payment

A huge part of AISD’s budget is its yearly recapture payment. The gist of recapture is this: The state requires wealthy school districts to share their property tax money with poorer school districts that don’t have access to that kind of revenue.

The state determines which districts pay into the system based on the home values in the districts. As many Austinites know, home values have been skyrocketing. As a result, Austin ISD now sends more than half of the property taxes raised in the city back to the state.

“When [recapture] began, it started out with 34 districts paying in $131 million,” Ramos said. “Now, with the way property values have been rising throughout the state, there’s 158 districts that participate in recapture, paying $3 billion to the state of Texas.”

Austin ISD pays more into this system than any other district — way more. In the last four years, the payment has quadrupled. Ramos says the district expects to pay $798 million next year — about half of the total proposed budget of $1.6 billion.

“Austin ISD believes in paying our fair share into the recapture system, but under the current system our share is not fair,” he said.

He and Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde have said they want to work with other local leaders and state officials to revamp the system.

The school board will review the proposed budget at its meeting next Thursday. A final budget vote is expected in June.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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