The Austin Chronicle

AISD Takes a Peek at Its Budget

By Richard Whittaker, June 19, 2009, News

Like every other government entity, the Austin Independent School District is trying to balance its budget in these tough economic times. Preceded with the major warning that this is a work in progress, on June 15 the staff presented the AISD board of trustees with the broad themes for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Current spending plans total $864.8 million – while that's down from 2008-09's projected final expenditure of $891.7 million, future revenue projections only come to $842.6 million. After other revenues are taken into account, staff calculate that the district needs $22 million from its $106.8 million reserves. Since that fund recharges, the district still projects $90 million in its coffers come Aug. 31, 2010.

Trustees are still waiting on precise figures and exact proposals. While he praised the work of interim Chief Financial Officer Steve West and his team, board Vice President Vince Torres said, "They aren't quite as far along as we, the board, have really expected." Their task has been complicated by waiting on details of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the districtwide efficiency study, and the imminent arrival of new Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. In comparison to previous years, Torres estimates the district is currently two weeks behind. Yet with no board meetings scheduled in July, that's really six weeks, and the board must adopt a final budget in August.

The presentation laid out the district's major priorities. For students, dropout prevention and recovery and English-language learner needs top the agenda. The latter is a particularly critical issue, since the district estimates 29% of enrolled students are learning English as a second language. Districtwide, technology for instruction, leadership development, and a new middle-level education plan were highlighted, as were the continued repurposing of Eastside Memorial High School and rescue plans for Pearce Middle and Reagan High.

The board had already received a briefing on June 9 on spending recommendations for the $17.3 million in extra special-education funding and $20.6 million for Title I programs in federal stimulus cash it expects to receive over the next two years. But there could be a problem with the state's plan to pay for teacher pay raises with stimulus cash, as the Texas Education Agency has raised concerns that it may not comply with federal guidelines. "That means the teacher pay raise may not be funded out of state dollars," Torres said.

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