The Buck Starts Here

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”

BES Photos/flickr

Texas school districts will be required to have cameras in special education classrooms if a parent, school board trustee or staff member requests it, starting in the 2016-2017 school year.  The cameras are aimed at improving safety for more vulnerable students, but some education groups say it’s an unfunded mandate for school districts.

During the legislative session, dozens of parents testified in support of the camera proposal. Many parents who testified spoke about their children who were abused or isolated for long periods of time.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, who wrote the bill, says the cameras would provide protection for students who can’t protect themselves.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Terrence Henry take on transportation.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

Jennifer Mullins is sitting in her office at Eastside Memorial High School when a staff member comes in and asks for a stress ball. There’s a student outside that needs help. Mullins walks out the door and immediately takes control. 

"Hey bud, hey! Stress ball! Just breathe," Mullins says.  The student was having a negative reaction to a medication.

Mullins is one of two school counselors at Eastside Memorial High School who handles both emotional and academic support. Every student there is labeled at-risk. Mullins says she spends half her time dealing with students' needs outside the classroom.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Kate McGee take on education.

It’s no secret that public education in Texas faces funding challenges, and the Austin Independent School District may be the perfect poster child for the issue. While the district sends more tax revenue to the state annually for redistribution than any other, it implemented austerity measures in 2008 and has been dipping into its reserves since 2012.

AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley stressed the issue when she spoke with the Austin Monitor. “We're utilizing our reserves to really maintain funding that we know is important for students,” she said.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, we take on Austin’s highways. You can read Tyler Whitson's companion piece over at the Austin Monitor.

We hear it all the time: Austin’s growing too fast, and we don’t have enough housing or roads for the people already here, not to mention the million more people that will be in the region in a little over a decade. To better accommodate an influx of people and cars, new additions are being planned for several of the region’s major highways. 

But there’s no such thing as a free ride on most of these new lanes, and to understand why, it helps to do a little time traveling.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

Travis County and the City of Austin take part in a regular fiscal dance with the State of Texas over who pays the costs of government. Over the next three days, KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.” Today, we take on Austin’s Municipal Courts. 

When Austin residents are handed traffic tickets or other Municipal Court fees and fines, they likely assume that the city is profiting handsomely from those often colorful sheets of paper. If they could see where those revenues go, however, they might come to a different conclusion.

In fact, the city’s current budget projects that the court will face a roughly $3.7 million shortfall in the fiscal year that started in October by incurring about $19.7 million in general expenses and pulling in about $16 million in general revenue. On top of that, it projects that the court will fall short in three of its special revenue funds and break even on the fourth.