Budget Cuts, Name Changes at AISD
Union urges wait-and-see stance on funding at board meeting
The Austin ISD Board of Trustees met Monday night for the first time since a district document listing $55 million in potential budget cuts was leaked to the public and more than a dozen speakers warned of the impact to students of some of those reductions, especially a proposed increase in the secondary school student-teacher ratio.
Before the meeting, Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said he was "mad as hell" not only at the "audacious cuts" but also at how they were disclosed:
"Communications are the Achilles' heel of this district." He made six demands of the board and AISD administration as they proceed with budget talks:
• No school closures without also considering redrawing attendance zone boundaries;
• No cuts to fine arts, bilingual, or special education;
• "Modest cuts" based on recommendations from the Budget Stabilization Task Force should be made before deeper cuts are considered;
• "No major decisions" on the budget until after the 86th Texas Legislature concludes in May (or later if a special session is called);
• Prioritizing compensation increases for all employees, not just teachers; and
• Proactive lobbying of lawmakers during the critical legislative session.
District officials are reluctant to wait and see what the Lege does, since in the past that approach has not borne fruit. "We will continue to press for school finance reform at the Capitol during the upcoming session," the district said in a statement. "However, with no guarantee that the Legislature will make meaningful reforms before it adjourns in May, we must also continue our difficult budget conversations with our community to plan for the future, as the district faces a $65 million budget deficit and the Board must approve a budget for 2019-2020 in June."
The board also voted 6-1-1 on Monday to rename Fulmore Middle School after Sarah Beth Lively, a longtime teacher at the school. District 3 Trustee Ann Teich voted against the measure, again citing budget concerns as she did in opposing renaming the former Allan Elementary campus last month, and District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias abstained, referencing "tension" in the community over the renaming process: "In plain English, the majority of our students are Latino, but only 10% of our schools are named after Latinos." A last-minute effort to consider renaming Fulmore for late Austin Mayor Pro Tem John Treviño had helped postpone the decision last month; Lively, who is white, was in the audience for the vote Monday. Board president Geronimo Rodriguez, whose District 6 includes Fulmore, said, "I know that history is always taught by the winners. I also know we should not erase history. ... We have to remember why we're doing these name changes in the first place, and I hope the vote today will help bring people together."
In November 2017, the board voted to rename campuses whose namesakes had served the Confederacy, and has now done so with Fulmore and Allan (renamed for longtime AISD educator Anita Ferrales Coy). Renaming of Reagan, Lanier, and Eastside Memorial (at the Johnston Campus) high schools is still planned but with no set timeline.