End of the Road for AISD Exigency
AISD is still in the red, but threat of mass firings has lifted
Austin ISD's budget may still be in the red, but the threat of mass firings has dissipated. On Jan. 30, the board of trustees voted unanimously to end financial exigency – the state of emergency that allowed the district to fire roughly 8% of its staff last year (see "AISD's Next Step After Exigency?," March 4, 2011). Even though the district still expects a revenue shortfall next year, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen told trustees, "There will not need to be another reduction in force this school year in order to cover our budget." The driving force behind exigency was nominally to allow Carstarphen to cut costs through layoffs, but it also allowed her to fire many long-term staff members and use the cash she freed up to restructure their respective departments and hire their replacements. With that restructuring complete, Carstarphen told the board that the district will pull cash out of its unexpended fund balances to cover the predicted shortfall of $12.6 million. Of course, this leaves many unanswered questions, like how the administration managed to squirrel away an extra $31.5 million in its fund balance since August 2010 while pleading poverty to the board. More pressingly, as trustee Robert Schneider asked Carstarphen, how long can the district use its savings to cover future shortfalls? According to district Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley-Abram, this would be a one-off deal: If the board wants to avoid future cuts or give teachers a long-overdue pay raise, it will need to ask voters for a tax rollback election.