AISD Braces for Budget Talks

AISD could be facing a $30 million shortfall in the next school year

Residents of the Austin Independent School District get their first glimpse of the budget process with two public meetings before the end of the year. And with a looming local deficit and a potential statewide school-funding shift brewing, they may not like what they see.

On Oct. 25, the AISD board of trustees adopted its budget calendar, establishing deadlines for setting the spending levels and tax rate for the 2011-12 school year. In 2009, the district predicted it would face a structural deficit of $14.3 million by then. Indeed, with the loss of state funding for full-time pre-kindergarten provision, the end of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funding, and general increases in costs, AISD communications director Andy Welch said, "We're looking at a shortfall of $30 million and growing."

The budget calendar already has some surprises: Earlier this year, trustees split 5-3 against Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's request to declare financial exigency. At the time, several trustees accused Carstarphen of springing a major proposal on them with little warning. There will be no such defense this time, with a new exigency vote scheduled for January. Board president Mark Williams said, "It's not inconceivable that we'll have less employees than we have today."

Many of the biggest decisions about school funding may be made under the Capitol dome rather than in the district boardroom. In 2009, the Legislature passed House Bill 3646, a school finance reform bill intended to fix some of the funding inequities created by the sweeping reforms passed in 2006. The expectation on the floor was that HB 3646 would at minimum patch the cracks in school funding for a few years. But lawmakers are already talking about yet more reforms in the next session, with Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, openly discussing the possibility of switching to a statewide property tax with local supplements. While that would take years and a constitutional amendment to implement, there are more pressing fears that lawmakers could change the state's funding formulas, cutting their classroom contribution further.

Important Dates

Nov. 30 Superintendent's community conversation at Lanier High

Dec. 9 Community conversation at Crockett High

Jan. 24 Vote on financial exigency and program change

Feb. 28 Staff presents preliminary budget to trustees and the public

Mar. 24 Community conversation on preliminary budget (Reagan High)

Mar. 31 Community conversation on preliminary budget (Bowie High)

April 11 Staff presents revised budget to trustees

June 6 Superintendent presents recommended budget

Aug. 22 Budget and tax rate adoption, start of 2011-12 academic year

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Austin Independent School District, Meria Carstarphen, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Steve Ogden, Legislature 2011

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