School Tax Hike Likely for November Ballot

AISD Board of Trustees mulls a much-overdue teacher pay raise

The Austin Independent School District board of trustees heard some good financial news at its Monday work session. And trustees seemed to agree with the administration that after several budget cycles of severe cuts – including pay freezes and layoffs for teachers and other district employees – the district has built up its reserves and credit rating sufficiently that it can take a deep breath and start investing in education again.

With ample evidence that AISD teacher pay is lagging behind comparable districts and also neighboring districts that compete in hiring, Super­in­tend­ent Meria Carstarphen and her staff laid out scenarios for the district to give raises, or at least one-time bonuses, of 3% or more during the next school and fiscal year, 2012-13. A 3% pay bonus could be funded out of the district's fund balance for one year, staff reported, but a permanent raise would require a tax hike and a tax ratification election under state law. Staff was looking to the board not for action (because this was a work session and not a board meeting), but for some direction: Is a tax hike something board members would be likely to support, and if so, what sort of time­table and scope might they prefer staff to work toward as they flesh out a formal proposal?

The board members' reactions were unanimously positive, verging on enthusiastic (to a surprising extent, perhaps, although board curmudgeon Robert Schneider was notably absent): yes to a tax ratification election, sooner rather later (meaning on the November ballot), and raises of 3% or perhaps more for all employees, not just teachers, to keep pace with neighboring districts. Staff will develop plans along those lines to bring to the board as soon as its next meeting, Jan. 23. It may not have been official, but the import was unmistakable: Once the board sets down this path, Carstarphen emphasized, it's "not if we're going to have a TRE, but when."

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