Peter vs. Paul at AISD

The ink was barely dry on the school district's proposed budget when the shredders began humming. On June 4, AISD Supt. Pat Forgione issued a preliminary budget that somehow neglected to address the district's declared No. 1 priority: teacher and staff raises (with the singular exception of sizable increases for Forgione's chief aides, the five area superintendents). A few days later, the board of trustees glowered while Forgione justified the omission -- saying he was waiting on confirmed revenue estimates -- then suggested where some new cuts might come in order to find enough money for teacher raises. The teachers' union, Education Austin, has called for raises approaching 5%, while Forgione is currently looking for $7.6 million in cuts to allow a 2% increase.

The district -- like most across Texas -- is between a rock and a hard place. AISD's state-mandated increases for equity recapture payments ("Robin Hood") and teachers' health insurance have climbed more than $60 million, easily devouring the capped increase in the property tax rate. Among the draconian proposals Forgione abruptly put before the board last week: $1 million slashed from the dropout prevention program, about $1.6 million in reduced library book and computer acquisitions, as well as potential unspecified cuts in school staffing ratios and central administration costs. Any of these would mean setbacks in substantive educational areas, thereby undermining current attempts to improve AISD's state accountability rankings. Moreover, the dropout prevention program was legally mandated two years ago after AISD faced criminal indictment for fudging its dropout numbers. The trustees face a long, hot summer of number crunching -- and in a deficit budget biennium, any serious outside help from the Legislature remains very unlikely.

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