AISD board weighs $1 billion spending plan

The Austin school district’s nearly $1 billion budget for next year includes raises of 1.5 percent for its 12,000 employees, paid in two lump sums during the school year.

But the increase — along with last year’s pay bump equivalent to 3 percent that carried over to this year’s budget — is temporary unless the district finds a permanent revenue source. The district this year will use $45.2 million from savings to cover the cost of the raises, the same way it paid for them last year. But if sustainable funding isn’t found over the next few years, salaries could roll back to the 2011 rates.

Districts across Central Texas this summer have been approving pay hikes to compete against other local districts in recruiting and retaining employees, particularly teachers. Austin district officials said they also need to keep boosting salaries to stay competitive as they look for a way to fund these and future raises.

“A good teacher in the classroom is our best shot at giving kids a good education,” said Trustee Gina Hinojosa. “I supported the modest pay raise because we must do what we can to attract the best educators.”

So far, the district has not made moves to increase taxes and Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said she doesn’t foresee the district asking voters for a tax rate increase in the next year.

Instead, the tax rate will remain unchanged at $1.242 per $100 of assessed property value, with $1.079 designated toward maintenance and operations, and 16.3 cents going toward debt repayment. Because property values have increased, the average home owner will pay an additional $143 annually. The owner of an average-value home of $255,560, after exemptions, will pay $3,174 in school taxes.

The $996.2 million budget is up $16.7 million, or 1.8 percent, over last school year. It includes operating costs for a new elementary school.

The state, which the last biennium made $4 billion in cuts to public education, will restore to the district $22 million of the $58.2 million it had cut.

In June, the Austin school board passed the district’s operating portion of the budget, $875 million, which increased expenditures by $39 million. The budget in its entirety includes the $41.2 million food service budget and $104 million to pay down the district’s debt.

The 86,732-student district expects an additional 246 students to enroll this year.

The district will open an elementary school in North Central Austin, named for Janis Guerrero Thompson, a longtime educator who died in 2011. Allan Elementary, which had been used by an in-district charter school, will be closed this school year.

The budget also sets aside funding for start-up costs for a second elementary school in North Central Austin, one of the most overcrowded areas in the district, and for a performing arts center, which officials broke ground on last week. The second elementary will open in 2014-15.

The spending plan also beefs us school security, adding six full-time police officers to the district’s force to increase response time.

Trustees will host a public hearing on the budget Aug. 27 in the board room of district headquarters, 1111 W. Sixth St. They plan to adopt the budget the same night.

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