Austin ISD Reduces Budget Deficit by Half

Meanwhile, special ed students are still struggling


Superintendent Matias Segura (screenshot via AISD)

The good news: Austin ISD is on track to reduce its $52 million deficit by half by the end of the summer. The bad news: third-graders in special education are not learning fast enough.

The district’s board of trustees dove into the details at its Feb. 22 meeting. Superintendent Matias Segura announced that the district has trimmed $26 million from the budget by leaving open positions unfilled, reducing overtime, and dropping unnecessary contracts. Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos offered context, saying the general assumption that Texas would increase funding in the 2023 legislative session has proven false and now school districts across the state are announcing budget deficits.

Ramos also provided numbers showing that the state and federal government are not paying their fair share to properly educate students who need special education services. Austin ISD currently receives $75 million from the state and $18 million from the federal government for its special education students, Ramos said, but will spend $166 million on them this year.

The discussion of SPED funding was followed by a look at how well these students are doing. The conclusion: not as well as hoped. The district set a goal to raise the percentage of special ed students who perform at grade level in math from the number at the beginning of the school year – 14% – to 25% by the end of May. Testing from December shows that the 14% figure has not risen at all.

“There are lots of students that had first-year teachers in kindergarten, and then in first grade, and then in second, and then, now, in the third grade. That greatly impacts a student.”  – AISD Deputy Superintendent Patricia Rodriguez discussing turnover

The district is seeing the same static test performance in other student groups. Segura identified several root causes of the problem, including the fact that the COVID pandemic kept students who had just entered school from being able to sit at tables with teachers and use “manipulatives” – tangible models that help young learners understand the basic concepts of math. He also noted that teaching curricula have changed three times in the four years since the pandemic began, which makes it harder for teachers to teach.

Dillon Finan, director of campus and district accountability, reiterated a point from previous meetings – that students experiencing poverty, including SPED kids, are doing worse across the board. Board President Arati Singh called attention to data showing that 8% of Black SPED students who are not experiencing poverty are testing at grade level in math. But only 1% of those experiencing poverty match that performance.

Deputy Superintendent Patricia Rodriguez pointed out that at schools with higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students, “the turnover with our leadership teams and the turnover with our new teachers is blaring.” She described informal research she’d undertaken: “There are lots of students that had first-year teachers in kindergarten, and then in first grade, and then in second, and then, now, in the third grade. That greatly impacts a student.”

Segura said the test results demonstrate the urgency of the intensive intervention announced last month at 20 of the district’s 78 elementary schools, an outpouring of resources designed to help the kids who are falling behind in reading and math. That intervention has been described as “overserving the historically underserved schools.” Segura changed up the dichotomy a bit in his remarks. “It’s not really overserving,” he said. “It’s just serving.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin ISD, Matias Segura, Eduardo Ramos, special education

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