Austin school trustees weigh $1.3 billion budget, ban on suspensions


Austin school district employees will not receive raises under current budget proposal.

2017-18 budget plan includes a $536 million payment to the state.

The Austin school board on Monday night will get its first glimpse of the $1.3 billion preliminary district budget for 2017-18.

Under the budget proposal, district employees will not receive raises, and the tax rate is expected to remain unchanged at $1.079 per $100 of assessed property valuation. A 1 percent raise for all employees would cost $5.7 million, and a 3 percent raise would cost more than $17 million.

More than half a billion dollars of that budget is expected to go to the state in a recapture payment, required from property-wealthy districts to subsidize property-poor districts under the state’s school finance system. That would leave the district $757.8 million for operating expenses.

Austin hands over more money under the school finance system than any other district in Texas. And as property values continue to rise and the district’s enrollment declines, greater percentages of local tax revenue will go to the state. The 2017-18 recapture payment is expected to climb 32 percent over this year’s to $536 million.

The district is projecting a loss of 170 students, the fifth consecutive annual decline, but it’s the smallest enrollment loss in recent years.

Other projected expenses include $1.4 million for adding a Montessori program and putting a health sciences program in one high school and a computer science program in another. Maintenance and repairs for the district’s facilities, which include custodial work and groundskeeping, are an estimated $7.2 million, and replacing and maintaining vehicles will cost the district $1 million.

Trustees also are slated to vote on whether to ban home suspensions, expulsions or alternative disciplinary programs for students in prekindergarten through second grade, except in cases required by the state’s education code (such as making terroristic threats).

The Dallas, El Paso and Houston districts have passed similar bans.

Austin district administrators and advocates pushing for the change, including Texas Appleseed, said research shows suspending young children is punitive and ineffective and leads to higher rates of dropouts and academic failure.

Others, including some teachers and principals, expressed concern that it limits the discretion of school staffers. District administrators are committing to a multitiered support system for both students and teachers.

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