Austin School Trustees acknowledged they were left with no easy choices last night as they voted 9-0 to approve a plan that would eliminate 485 jobs next school year, mostly teachers. The decision was based on a plan to reduce the $113 million projected budget gap without cutting full day pre-K. But all those plans could go out the window depending on how the legislature decides to distribute cuts to education funding.
At issue is how lawmakers go about defunding education. They could opt to go with an across-the-board, 15 percent cut to school districts, or they choose to implement the spending reductions on through an existing funding formula known as the additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR) program. Another possibility is the state could eliminate ASATR entirely and reduce the basic cash allotment per student.
It's a complex set of options, but basically it works like this: AISD's current projected deficit of $113 million is based on the first option. A 15 percent, across-the-board cut to school districts would cut state funding to the Austin district by $98 million in 2011-12. Should lawmakers implement the cuts through funding formulas, AISD would be staring at an excruciating $181.8 million cut in state funding, according to analysis by local education consultant Lynn Moak.
Austin ISD financial chief Nicole Conley-Abrams acknowledged as much last night during a school board meeting.
"We're taking the best scenario," Conley-Abrams told trustees of their budget deficit projections. "Once we get to the point that we're looking at another $100 million on top of it, I think it's sort of insurmountable for us at that point in time."
"That's why we definitely need to compel our legislators to utilize an equal distributed formula that applies equally across all districts," she said.
Not all districts suffer equally under the across-the-board 15 percent cut. Some actually benefit from the formula cut scenario that would harm AISD. Del Valle ISD, for example, would lose $11.7 million under the across-the-board cut, but only $10.2 million under formula cuts. Manor ISD would also benefit from formula cuts, but across-the-board cuts would favor Eanes, Pflugerville, Lake Travis and Lago Vista ISDs.
In Williamson County, across-the-board cuts would favor Round Rock, Georgetown, Liberty Hill, Leander, and Jarrell ISDs. Formula cuts would favor Coupland, Florence, Granger, Hutto, Taylor and Thrall ISDs.
In Hays County, across-the-board cuts would favor Dripping Springs, San Marcos and Wimberley school districts. Formula cuts would favor Hays CISD.
Let your lawmaker know which method you would prefer they take. Find your representatives' contact information by entering your zip code in the legislature's directory.
Update at 2:07 pm: Lauren Cook with the Equity Center, an Austin-based group that lobbies for low income school districts, warns that this report is too hypothetical for them to recommend one defunding mechanism over another.
"We haven't commented on [the Moak Casey report] because the three scenarios that are presented in that report are not any more or less likely than any other scenario the legislature or any other group could conceive of," Cook told KUT News.
Cook says the report is useful to show districts "how shockingly horrible it could be," but because the severity of cuts and how they're implemented is still uncertain at this point, the Equity Center is unwilling to speculate.
Update at 4:23 pm: Austin ISD school board president Mark Williams also says the future is cloudy for school finance in Texas, but was willing to acknowledge that a $181 million cut in state funding would be agonizing.
""It would truly be a Doomsday scenario that would have short and long term consequences," Williams said.