Austin ISD school board votes tonight on the budget for next school year

The Austin ISD board of trustees will vote Thursday on a nearly $1.9 billion budget for the upcoming academic year.

A significant portion of that funding will leave the district as a recapture payment to the state. The system was started in the 1990s with the goal of transferring money from property-wealthy school districts to districts that do not get as much money from property taxes.

Austin ISD has, by far, the largest recapture payment in the state — paying more than the next three districts combined. It’s set to pay about $845 million to the state this year. That’s much more than the district anticipated because local property values ​​soared.

“When our property values ​​grow, so does our recapture payment,” Eduardo Ramos, Austin ISD’s chief financial officer, said during a school board meeting last month. “So, although we do receive additional revenue from this property growth increase, you also know a larger percentage goes back to the state.”

The district was predicting property values ​​would grow by 8%, but growth ended up being 18%. So, Austin ISD is paying almost $50 million more than expected into the state’s recapture system, also known as Robin Hood.

The district is confronting this massive recapture payment while also facing a high turnover rate. During the 2021-2022 academic year, 2,106 employees resigned. More employees left last year than during each of the previous three years.

Austin ISD is recommending wage increases for bus drivers, librarians and—of course—teachers. It has proposed a $1,000 base pay increase for teachers and a 2% midpoint raise, meaning the raise is based on the middle of the pay range for that pay grade. There are also a couple retention bonuses included in the budget proposal. One would give teachers who have been with the district for at least five years $500, while another would give full-time, active employees who are employed as of Sep. 1, 2022, a $2,000 retention stipend to be paid in two separate chunks during the year.

Ken Zarifis, president of the union Education Austinsaid the raises are not enough in the face of soaring living expenses.

“However, at this point in the year, and at this point in the budget process, we’ve come to an agreement with the district with the intention that next year we do more,” he said.

Zarifis said Austin ISD also needs to raise the minimum wage to be competitive with other employers, especially because the City of Austin may be increasing its minimum wage to $22. The district is proposing a $16 minimum wage.

“The reality is that more money has to go to the workers who are making AISD function,” he said.

He also said while the district is focused on having a balanced budget, there are other issues to consider. He says, for one thing, higher property values ​​are expected to bring more funding into the district.

“Having a balanced budget isn’t always the priority when [most] of your budget is employees and they’re struggling to survive,” Zarifis said.

The school board has dipped into cash reserves over the last five years for the budget. Austin ISD has said its bond rating could be at risk if the school board decides to use cash reserves for this budget.

One way the district is proposing to cut costs is by eliminating 600 positions, many of which are in the central office and are vacant. Austin ISD also has federal pandemic relief dollars to help supplement the budget.

While the district has provided its recommendation for the budget, the school board can still make changes Thursday. Zarifis said this is an opportunity for trustees “to take back some of the power that they ceded to this current superintendent and to give clearer direction to where this district needs to go.”

Stephanie Elizalde’s last day as superintendent is June 30. The current chief of schools, Anthony Maystakes over as interim superintendent on July 1.

The board meeting begins tonight at 5:30 pm You can watch it live here.

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