AISD May Not Seek Tax Hike Till 2013
The Austin school district has almost a billion dollars to spend next school year. But it also has 87,000 students to teach and more than half of them come from economically disadvantaged homes, so there is no shortage of demands. And the people who run the district from teachers to cafeteria workers to administrators haven’t received a raise in two years. They’ll get a one-time three percent increase next school year, but after that nothing is certain.
“We’re going to create a climate that people don’t feel this is a place to be,” AISD board president Mark Williams said during a work session last night, raising a concern that talented educators may be willing to shop around for better compensation. “They may stay with us for a year, and they’re going to be looking, and we may not understand the impact until next year.”
Williams and most other board members think the three percent raise should be made permanent. That way the district could offer compensation packages that are more competitive with places like San Antonio, Fort Worth and Houston. Doing that would cost 14-million dollars a year. But Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said AISD doesn’t have that money.
“Of course you can direct me to do it, but it would not be my recommendation that we spend money that we don’t have,” Carstarphen told the board.
She said if the board wants to give staff a permanent raise, it should ask voters to pay for it in November. But the AISD board is wary of asking for a tax increase with the possibility of competing measures on the ballot. The city, for example, could ask for a few hundred million dollars in bonds. There may also be a bond for a new medical school. And Trustee Lori Moya is sensing that the political winds may shift during a general election.
“Traditionally Austin is a much more public school supporting environment, but the landscape of our community has changed,” Moya said. “There are those influences that don’t necessarily feel as strongly about public education as we do.”
Statewide, there appears to be a hesitancy on the part of school districts to ask for higher property taxes. An analysis by the Dallas Morning News found that only 50 of more than 1,000 school districts in Texas asked voters for higher taxes since the state legislature cut education spending by more than $5 billion last year.
The Austin school board has until August 6 to decide if it wants to put a tax increase on the ballot in November. Judging by the discussion at Monday night’s meeting, it appears more likely they’ll wait until 2013.