AISD Budget: Holding the Line

Funding the new school year

Education isn't getting any cheaper, but at the Aug. 3 meeting, interim Chief Financial Officer Steve West was able to give the Austin ISD board of trustees revised details on how the district proposes to cover its almost $900 million budget for the 2009-10 school year.

With no property tax election planned, the rate remains at $1.202 per $100 of taxable value. Even with stagnating property values, a still-rising tax base means a target revenue of $6,030 per student – up about $120 from the 2008-09 academic year. But even after the federal stimulus and extra state cash, the district is still looking at a deficit and will dip into its general revenue fund balance to cover the shortfall. In June, West proposed dropping the fund balance from its current $113 million down to $91 million in August 2010. Now he's aiming for $103 million – that still leaves a shortfall of around $10 million, but to keep that as narrow as possible, he proposed a slate of budget reductions, totaling $13 million to $15 million. Roughly half will come from permanent restructuring at the central office; but some, like canceling scheduled vehicle replacements, "aren't budget cuts," said trustee Robert Schneider. By postponing the inevitable investment, he warned, "We're pushing things out."

These numbers are projections; the district won't know for certain its expenditure budget until it actually spends the money, and there are several major questions still surrounding revenue. Due to a record number of appeals, the Travis Central Appraisal District is unlikely to certify its tax rolls before the end of August, while the Texas Education Agency has told districts that, although it was expecting to pay for the teacher pay raise with stimulus money, the state would prefer they find other funding mechanisms. "Every time we turn around, there's something else," West told the board.

Education Austin President Louis Malfaro argues that the district is being overcautious. Since the district has historically underestimated the fund balance by $10 million, he said, "I'm going to predict that, when the audit comes in, we will have $120 million." The district, he said, should put more into wages, especially for support staff not scheduled for a raise this year.

The board will have a further budget discussion on Aug. 10, with a public hearing Aug. 17 and a final vote scheduled for Aug. 24 – just in time for classes to start.

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AISD, Texas Education Agency, Steve West, Robert Schneider, Louis Malfaro, Education Austin

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