School districts across Texas are in the sticky situation of trying to calibrate their spending for the next year without knowing exactly how deeply the state will cut public education. The largest school district in Central Texas, Austin ISD, will hold the first of two public hearings tonight to seek public input on how it should manage a projected $94 million shortfall, even though a large portion of that deficit has already been slashed through the elimination of more than 1,100 jobs.
Tonight’s “Community Conversation,” as the school district calls it, is scheduled for 6:30 pm to 8 pm in the cafeteria of Reagan High School at 7401 Berkman Drive in northwest Austin. AISD financial chief Nicole Conley-Abram will do a brief presentation on the budget and then answer questions. Childcare and Spanish interpretation services will be provided.
If you can’t make tonight’s meeting, there’s another one at Bowie High School in south Austin on Thursday, March 31. That meeting also runs from 6:30 pm to 8 pm.
School districts are struggling to make tough budget decisions while being left in the dark over the extent of state cuts. Employees being laid off must be notified 45 days before the end of the school year, or mid-April, which forces districts to make job cuts before they even know what’s in the state budget.
But there are signs the cuts to public education may not be as severe as initially proposed in the House and Senate budget bills released at the beginning of the state legislative session. Our political reporting partner, the Texas Tribune, has full details in a report this morning.
Last week’s political circus between House budget writers and Gov. Rick Perry led to an agreement to withdraw $3.1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to balance the current 2011 budget. While that action replaced $2 billion in expected education funding cuts, it still leaves the state about $8 billion short of its financial obligations to schools.
You can hear a lively discussion about the House Budget in our weekly TribCast, where KUT's Ben Philpott shoots the breeze with the Texas Tribune's Evan Smith, Ross Ramsey, and Reeve Hamilton.
Meanwhile, on the Senate side, the Trib reports…
Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said a subcommittee she heads has identified $6 billion that can be added to the baseline budget for public schools. She said they arrived at that figure by planning for a variety of scenarios, including “across-the-board” cuts to districts that may range from 3 percent to 8 percent.
Shapiro is expected to provide more details during a Senate Finance Committee meeting scheduled to begin around 11 o’clock this morning or whenever the Senate adjourns. You will be able to watch a live stream of that meeting here. (RealPlayer required.)
Austin ISD has a budget page on its website with more detailed information on development of the spending plan.