AISD Board Attempts to Stanch Bleeding From Budget

But teacher retention remains the highest priority

Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos speaks to the Board of Trustees June 8 (Screenshot via Austin ISD)

The members of Austin ISD’s board of trustees knew this could happen when they voted for the big pay raises in May.

With teachers and staff leaving the district in record numbers, the trustees gave a 7% raise to certified employees (teachers, librarians, counselors) and $4 more per hour to everyone else, in an effort to stabilize the district, even though the raises could blow up the budget. Now, calculations show that the district will run significant budget deficits for the next several years.

Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos told the board at a district information session on June 8 that the deficits could range between $50 million and $70 million each year until 2028. “That is our worst case scenario,” Ramos said. “So it’s pretty clear that we have to have a plan to reduce our overall expenditures.”

Ramos laid out several strategies to reduce the deficits. He said the district could delay its recapture payment to the state, saving $10 million (fun fact: AISD pays the state $941 million to be used by less affluent school districts – more than its operating budget of $884 million). It could tinker with expenditures – cutting costs on contracts and software, leaving some vacancies unfilled, and “eliminating inefficiency” to save another $15 million. It could also work to increase enrollment, which would generate another $1.5 million. Ramos said that with these strategies the deficits could be reduced to $20 million to $30 million annually.

Ramos also repeated what many have said – that it was a disappointing regular session for public education but that the Texas Legislature could eventually send more money to the state’s schools during a special session. Lawmakers came into the now-concluded session with a $33 billion surplus (and had $27 billion in the Rainy Day Fund). They had initially planned to invest $5 billion in public education, increasing the basic allotment by $140 per student. Eventually, that number was taken down to $50. In the end, the number was zero.

“I’ve contacted several of our urban districts throughout the state and they are also looking at some large deficits,” Ramos said. “But again, they are looking at everything they can do to retain their employees. Our employees are our backbone, so we had to make a decision now. We couldn’t wait to see the outcome of the legislative session. Otherwise, we’d have started losing employees pretty quickly to the suburbs or have them leaving the profession in general.”

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