The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Dropping the Dropouts

By Michael King, July 5, 2002, News

AISD Supt. Pat Forgione needs to find money for teacher and staff pay raises, and among the budget cuts publicly contemplated is eliminating the district's successful dropout prevention program, an estimated savings of $1 million. (Slashing book and computer purchases is also under consideration.) The program was mandated by prosecutors when the district faced indictment for falsifying dropout numbers. The possibility of its elimination provoked Austin state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos to write Forgione asking him to save the program. Barrientos, who sponsored a successful package of dropout prevention legislation, said he is "disturbed to learn the [AISD] Board is even considering taking a step backward," adding, "I understand that you are facing difficult choices ... but I strongly urge that you continue to fully fund your dropout prevention efforts." Citing the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," the senator said he believes "the state needs to bear a greater share of the costs of public education," and he promised to "strive to make that a reality."

District spokesman Andy Welch said the matter came up at a budget work session last week, and dropout task force member (and former board member) Melissa Knippa spoke in support of the program. Forgione reiterated that he "had no desire to eliminate any of the new programs, but that he felt obligated to put them on the table to see how much money could be generated for teacher pay raises." Welch says the district remains hopeful that when property appraisals are finalized in July there will be sufficient money to cover the need. "It will be real difficult to do even a 2% raise," Welch said, "if the property values aren't there to support it." Welch repeated that neither the administration nor the board wants to cut the dropout prevention program, "but there must be a pay raise for teachers, and it will have to come from somewhere. [The dropout program] is still on the table" he concluded, "but to cut it would be real painful."

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