Budget Woes at AISD

Doesn't look like AISD will be cutting property tax rates any time soon

Years of soaring property prices have meant that the Austin Independent School District could cut property-tax rates and still pay the bills. But as public discussions begin for the 2009 budget, the district finds itself squeezed between increasing student demands, flattening property values, and big payments to the state.

AISD's board of trustees is discussing raising the maintenance and operations property-tax rate from $10.40 per $1,000 of appraised value to $10.80: With an interest and sinking rate (used for debt management) of $1.23, the combined rate would be $12.03. That means the average house in AISD (appraised at $233,324) would be paying $2,807 in taxes – up $345 from this year. The district projects that this will raise an additional $72 million, which it sorely needs: 61% of its students come from homes classified as "eco­nom­ically disadvantaged," and 28% have limited English proficiency – two educational groups that traditionally require greater investment. But because of high property values, AISD has to send $172 million, which would include $63 million of that new $72 million, to the Texas Education Agency under recapture.

The board proposes a 3% pay raise for teachers, but at their Aug. 11 meeting, Education Austin President Louis Malfaro chided them over low pay. He requested a 5% cost-of-living increase, a minimum $10-per-hour living wage, and a $150 medical-insurance stipend, which combined he estimated would only cost AISD $11.5 million. To pay for it, he suggested administrative cuts and dumping proposals for K-3 math testing, as well as dipping into the district's fund balances.

District 7 trustee Robert Schneider worried that, with so much emphasis placed on low-achieving schools, high-achieving schools were atrophying. "The perception is out there that we're just letting [students] bump along," he said. District Superintendent Pat For­gi­one replied, "This is about having less revenue and maintaining our current programs." Slowing property prices mean that revenue estimates dropped in the last two months, and calculations suggest that AISD's proposed budget needs $21 million from the fund balance accounts, $6 million more than earlier estimates. Forgione said, "If I had these budget numbers in June, I don't know if I would have recommended a 3 percent raise." While he stood by this commitment, he told the board, "You have to make the final decision."

The tax increase will be discussed at a public meeting at the Carruth Administration Complex, 1116 W. Sixth, Room B-100, on Monday, Aug. 18. The board will then vote on Aug. 25 whether to put the proposal on the November ballot.

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AISD, Education Austin, Louis Malfaro, property taxes, Pat Forgione

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