After a marathon board meeting, Austin School Trustees voted in the wee morning hours to declare the district to be in a state of financial exigency. The declaration will give Superintendent Meria Carstarphen more power to reduce AISD's projected budget deficit of $94 million.
Parents, teachers, and students spilled out from the school board auditorium and into the courtyard at Austin ISD headquarters last night. They were holding signs and chanting against budget cuts the district is forced to implement mostly due to a reduction in state funding.
Inside the board auditorium, trustees came face to face with some of the people who could lose their jobs under a plan to slash more than 1,100 positions. Alan Guckian is the band director at the district's lowest performing school: Eastside Memorial.
"Our band students are leaders on the campus," Guckian said during the citizen communication portion of the meeting. "They have some of the highest grades and test scores of all of the students in Eastside Memorial High School, and they serve as ambassadors for the high school and our entire district."
After hearing impassioned pleas for the district to use a delicate touch when cutting the budget, Superintendent Meria Carstarrphen presented a preliminary spending plan. She explained that her office tried to suggest tough decisions based on goals outlined in the district's strategic plan. Those goals include raising graduation rates and closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities.
"So we are continuing to do what we have been expected to do," Carstarphen said. "Why are we cutting? We can ask this question as many times as we want. We are cutting because we don't have enough money to run the school system the way it is. One, because we have a structural deficit that has never been resolved. And second, we have less money coming from the state."
Carstarphen said that's why she was asking for the board to declare financial exigency, so she could put the wheels in motion to remove more than 1,100 positions and restructure educational programs. School Board Trustee Vince Torres supported the resolution, but said he did not do so lightly.
"Today is a very sad day in the history of public education in the state of Texas, and an even sadder day in the history of public education here in AISD," Torres said.
Board member Tamala Barksdale opposed the resolution.
"We are talking about the school district and classrooms, and the Superintendent said it herself, these are the cuts that are going to hurt the classroom," she said.
In the end, the board voted 7-2 in favor of declaring financial exigency. The vote does not approve the layoffs, but it does direct staff to identify positions for elimination, something they've already been doing. Dr. Carstarphen also stressed that there are no plans to close schools in the upcoming school year.