June 26, 2023, Austin American-Statesman: Austin ISD's deficit budget raises pay, funds special education https://www.statesman.com/story/news/education/2023/06/26/austin-isds-deficit-budget-raises-pay-funds-special-education/70339804007/
The Austin school board on Thursday approved a $2.1 billion budget for its upcoming fiscal year that spends almost $64 million for employee raises, $6.2 million to hire staff to evaluate special education students and $1.3 million to expand literacy programs.
The hefty budget comes with a $52 million deficit, a number that school board members said could have been reduced with additional investment from the Legislature…..
Special education and bilingual teachers will get a $7,000 stipend, and the staff performing special education evaluations will get a 20% pay bump, according to the district.
The district has been under fire from the state and disability rights groups for its significant backlog of special education evaluations for students requesting services.
In its new budget, the district will spend $6.2 million to hire 50 special education workers to perform those evaluations and $120,000 on an ombudsman, who would help parents navigate the school system.
Under the new budget, taxpayers will pay 92.66 cents on every $100 of taxable value for their property. This is lower than last year’s tax rate of 99.66 cents on every $100. The board won’t officially finalize the tax rate until the Travis Central Appraisal District approves the tax roll later this year.
More than half of the district’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year — $940 billion — will go to the state's recapture program, which takes money from property-wealthy school districts and distributes it to districts that don’t collect enough property tax revenue to cover costs.
'Very difficult decisions'
The school district will pull from its reserves to cover the $52 million budget deficit.
During budget discussions, school board members weighed postponing spending $510,000 to hire six athletic trainers, who would help prevent and treat sports-related injuries.
Ultimately, the members agreed to add the hires to the deficit.
The conversation about being able to hire athletic trainers highlights the need for more funding for schools, District 7 school board member David Kauffman said.
“It's frustrating to see the neglect of our public school system that results in discussions about whether we can invest in the safety of our students,” Kauffman said.
Other board members also voiced frustration with the state for not increasing per pupil funding during the regular legislative session that ended May 29.
“We are having to make very difficult decisions in a very wealthy state that is choosing to underfund our schools,” District 5 member Lynn Boswell said.
Remaining uncertainty about possible future legislative action on school funding loomed over the district's budget discussions. Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos warned board members they will likely have to amend the budget this fall after lawmakers meet in an expected special session on so-called school choice measures.
Gov. Greg Abbott has signaled he plans to call a special session to pass legislation that failed this spring that would have provided parents with state money to pay for private school. It’s possible the governor could include other school-related topics, like public school funding, in the special session.
The possible passage of any additional required programs that aren’t directly tied to state funding could put the district in a tough situation, Ramos said.
“We would have to quickly make decisions to reduce in other areas,” Ramos said.
The district’s 2023-24 fiscal year begins July 1.