Naked City

AISD Board's Budget Balance

The Austin ISD board of trustees released a district report, "Success for Our Students," at Ridgetop Elementary last week, tracking the district's progress since 1999, when Pat Forgione became superintendent. Board Vice-President Ingrid Taylor called attention to the AISD's state-recognized academic success, its balanced budget, and healthy fund balance, but said the district is now "living on a fixed income" because of its property-tax cap and decreasing state aid for public schools.

Forgione said AISD has joined other property-wealthy districts in calling for a freeze on state recapture payments (aka "Robin Hood"). The board is scheduled to hold its first formal meeting on next year's budget when the district returns from spring break, Monday, March 17. The administration's Budget Task Force has made its recommendations, and although Forgione said he might "tinker around the margins," he is expected to follow the task force's guidance when he presents to the trustees. To address an anticipated deficit of $51 million, the task force recommended that $29.5 million be spent from the AISD's reserve-fund balance, with the remaining $21.5 million coming from cuts to central and campus-level administration and some teaching areas.

The most controversial proposals are to increase class size for "special area" teachers (art, music, and physical education) and to replace the Account for Learning and Reading Recovery programs, which provide intensive help to at-risk students, especially in low-income neighborhoods, with less expensive "reading specialists" for each elementary school. Several hundred Austin Interfaith members attended a budget forum at Reagan High last week, and dozens of speakers, mostly from Eastside schools, called strongly on the district to preserve intact the Account for Learning, Reading Recovery, and special area teachers. "Don't take money from the neediest kids," said one teacher and AI member from Ortega Elementary. "We can't do local fundraisers to make up the difference."

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