The nine elected officials who govern the Austin school district want to hear from the public tonight on the largest financial challenge AISD has faced in recent memory: a $94.4 million projected budget gap. The deficit has already been cut in half by the elimination of more than 1,000 positions, but board members still have a $46 million shortfall to confront.
The financial crisis is largely the result of anticipated cuts in public education funding by the state, which is grappling with a budget shortfall as large as $27 billion. But House and Senate lawmakers differ on how severely they should cut government services to close the gap.
Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved a budget that spends $4.3 billion more on public education than the House budget. The Senate plan also uses an additional $3.1 billion from the state’s emergency savings account, the Rainy Day Fund. House leaders have said they don’t want to spend any more from the Rainy Day Fund than the $3 billion already allotted to cover a budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.
Meanwhile, back at the local level, school districts are trying to figure out what this will mean for their bottom line. Many, like Austin, are scheduled to adopt their budgets in June. AISD board members have left the door open to delaying budget adoption until August to get a clearer picture of how severely the state will defund public schools.
AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has said that the deep staffing cuts to the district have been so painful that the board should consider covering the remaining deficit by drawing down from its $100 million reserves, a pool of money intended to keep the district solvent and help boost its bond rating. KUT News spoke to Dr. Carstarphen about the budget crisis earlier this month. You can hear that half-hour conversation here.
As of 9 o’clock this morning, the Superintendent’s office said there will still several spots left among the thirty that are typically made available for an hour-long public hearing. People who want to speak need to sign up at Austin ISD headquarters. Each person will receive two minutes to address the board tonight.
The public hearing on the budget will be held in addition to the hour-long “citizen communication” that is regularly scheduled during school board meetings. To find out if there are still spots left during either public comment session, call the Superintendent’s office at (512) 414-2412.