AISD Weighs Schedule Change to Fix Budget Woes

Proposal would cut planning time for teachers in half

AISD central office in South Austin (Photo by Jana Birchum)

With budget talks on the horizon, Austin ISD teachers are sweating the latest unwelcome change in two years of seemingly nonstop changes: a proposed schedule adjustment that would cut planning time for teachers in half. The change, currently being discussed between AISD's central office and leadership at the campus level, has been posited as a last-ditch solution to fix the district's growing budget deficit, currently sitting at $62.2 million.

"We're working with every individual principal to see how we can get to what we need from campus staffing in a way that doesn't create the largest negative impacts to the system," said Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde at an AISD Board of Trustees information session on Jan. 13. She said the decision would be discussed at length in budget talks beginning in February and that there are still other options on the table. She said leadership knows the change isn't ideal. "There are pros and cons, mostly cons, to the seven-of-eight in terms of its impact on campuses," Elizalde said, referring to the controversial plan to have secondary school teachers in class for seven of the eight class periods in a day. However, she added, "There are only cons to not creating a balanced budget."

“It’s really accurate to state that we’re going to see a massive exodus if the district continues down this path.”
–Education Austin President Ken Zarifis

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis told the Chronicle that the seven-of-eight schedule is not a new proposal. In the time since he became a teacher in the early 2000s, he said he's heard the idea floated four or five times, always in a time of dire financial need. "In a budget crisis, they're looking for big dollars real quick," he said. Because the district has found other solutions in the past, and because it's among the largest landowners in the city, he believes there are other solutions to closing the funding gap.

In a Jan. 18 EA press conference, teachers, students, and others voiced their concerns about the proposed schedule, which would eliminate one of two planning periods currently afforded at the secondary level and replace it with another period of instruction. "It'll add almost 20% to the workload," Zarifis said, explaining that the two planning periods are necessary for already overworked teachers to prepare for classes in their other six periods. Although a modest salary increase has also been proposed, "it's beyond the compensation, it's really about the quality of instruction for students."

The phrase "last straw" has been thrown around liberally by teachers in the last year, but Zarifis said he thinks the switch to a seven-of-eight schedule might be enough to force an even bigger wave of resignations than that seen in the fall semester. According to data posted by Trustee Arati Singh on Facebook, between July 2021 and January 2022, AISD lost more than 30% more staff than it did in the same period the previous year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic's deadly second wave.

The resignations and retirements aren't evenly spread across AISD either. According to Singh's post, 32% of current teacher vacancies are in special education, and 71% of the elementary teacher vacancies are in Title I schools, where at least 40% of enrolled students are from low-income families. "It's really accurate to state that we're going to see a massive exodus if the district continues down this path," Zarifis said.

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Austin Independent School District, AISD, AISD budget, Stephanie Elizalde, Education Austin, Ken Zarifis, Arati Singh

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