AISD Notebook

Over the vociferous objections of several prominent African-American and Hispanic community leaders, on Monday the AISD Board of Trustees adopted a budget for the 1995-96 school year that is about $1.3 million short on funds for schools with high percentages of low-income children.

The total budget is $383 million - $3 million less than the 1994-95 budget. That figure could be amended when the State of Texas provides money in 1995-96 for a new state-mandated, minimum salary schedule. Librarians will remain full-time on all campuses. But controversy over an eight-year-old program for low-income children remained the flashpoint of the meeting.

Jeff Travillion, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, reminded the board that AISD is essentially ending its 16-campus Priority Schools program without "a comprehensive assessment" of the quality of each school's instruction or the qualifications of its teachers and administrators. "We cannot support moving Priority Schools funding without this type of analytical data," he said.

But the non-emotional and non-personal rhetoric ended there. Dorothy Turner, president of the Black Citizens Task Force, criticized superintendent Jim Fox for being "the coldest-looking superintendent we've had in a long time." She also questioned whether white school board members were correctly representing the interests of minority children, who are dispersed throughout all seven trustee districts. Turner promised to put up a fight when the district's bond issue comes up for a vote.

Paul Hernandez, a long-time community activist, demanded that funding for Priority Schools be totally restored. He accused the board of hiring Fox as a hatchet man for the programs that benefit minorities. "Your racist arrogance keeps you ignorant," he said to Fox.

Gavino Fernandez, a member of El Concilio, an East Austin activist group, said that AISD should be sued for falsification of a document every time it issues a high school diploma to a student who cannot read beyond the 10th grade level. He added that he was sorry he didn't accept the advice he'd been given a long time ago: not to trust the white man.

Vice President Jerry Carlson moved to adopt the budget, and was seconded by President Kathy Rider. Trustee Diana Casteñeda offered a substitute motion - to increase the proposed tax rate by 2cents, to $1.30 per $100 property valuation, thereby restoring full funding to the Priority Schools, as well as providing a 3.9% pay raise for classified employees, instead of the mere 2% increase that was proposed. (Fox had informed the board that the Texas Legislature will send another $1.6 million for teacher pay increases, boosting their raise from 3.37% to 4.2%.) Casteñeda's motion was seconded by Loretta Edelen.

Nearly every member contributed to the debate on the dais, but it was trustee Geoff Rips who offered the most cogent defense of the district's plan. Rips said that former superintendent Terry Bishop had led him to believe that no local money whatsoever was going to be available in 1995-96 for Priority Schools - nor for pay raises, nor for elementary art, music, and P.E. instruction. Under the present leadership, that extremely grim scenario was avoided. He pointed out that $12.2 million will still go to low-income schools, and that 16,000 more students will be served. Much has changed in the socioeconomic landscape since the inception of Priority Schools. "We can't continue paying tribute to old solutions," Rips said. In response, an audience member exploded, "You're a racist idiot!"

Sadly, the vote on Casteñeda's motion and the vote on the recommended budget both broke down along racial lines, 7-2. Casteñeda and Edelen voted to raise taxes and voted against the budget. The remaining members - Rider, Carlson, Rips, Tom Agnor, Liz Hartman, Ted Whatley, and Melissa Knippa, voted for the budget and the increased taxes.

The tax rolls in Travis County will not be certified until the end of July. AISD's budget is expected to be funded at a zero-effective tax rate of $1.28 per $100 property valuation; the tax rate will not be adopted until September.

As for the future: Fox informed the board that the district is looking at another loss of
$14 million in state aid for 1996-97. In addition to that loss, AISD will have to spend $4.9 million of local money to fund a new state-mandated minimum salary schedule. Reductions in programs won't make up the losses, he said. A big tax increase will. n

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