Voters support pay raise

Austin voters continued to demonstrate strong support for public schools Tuesday, voting 59% to 41% to endorse AISD Proposition 1, ratifying a property-tax increase necessary to provide a 3% pay raise for teachers and staff. AISD released a statement thanking voters for their support, noting, "Austin teachers and other School District employees have always been fortunate to have the support of a community that is passionate about, and committed to, a quality public education system."

While there had been some public apprehension expressed about the proposition (the AISD statement acknowledged the "difficult and uncertain economic times"), there was no organized public opposition, and the proposition was strongly supported by both the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the teacher and staff union Education Austin. At the Driskill Dem celebration Tues­day night, EA co-President Louis Malfaro was gratified by early voting returns that showed Prop. 1 on its way to an easy victory. "Even with the economy on the rocks," he said, "nearly two-thirds of the people are willing to support public education and the teachers."

Prior to the vote, Malfaro had noted that the Legislature has made it structurally difficult for school boards to raise funds – "It's like a choke-collar on the public schools," he said – and he had also criticized the AISD board for being reluctant (with the chamber's approval) to propose a higher increase to the voters. "If we have to go to the voters by law," he said, "we should at least ask for all that we really need."

Does Malfaro think the 2009 Lege might present the possibility of substantial improvement of the complex school finance system? "When Speaker [Pete] Gallego appoints the House Committee on Public School Finance," he said with a grin, "I'm confident that committee will design a great new school finance system." Malfaro's optimism about Alpine Democrat Gallego's propects was premature; it appeared Wednesday morning that the GOP has retained a narrow (76-74) House majority and a likely Republican speaker.

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