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AISD Board votes to cut jobs

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Austin Independent School District’s board of trustees finalized its decision last night to eliminate 1,153 positions from its employee ranks.

 

The board declared financial exigency at the end of February. Since then, the district has been working to allow employees to resign or move to other district positions. Last night’s vote came down to finalizing the number of people who walked out the door on their own and those who would be terminated. The final numbers in that category: 490 teachers and administrators working under a contract and 302 non-contract support staff.

 

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen held out little hope that the district cuts were avoidable, even if the legislature were to minimize funding losses to Austin ISD. Beyond the 1,153 positions lost, Austin also will have to pull $43 million out of the district’s rainy day fund to close the budget gap, Carstarphen said. That means AISD would start the following year with a $43 million budget hole.

 

Trustees dodged the specific recommendations of the facilities task force by simply “accepting it” without a vote, even while parents such as Robin Rather and Jason Sabo questioned the validity of the data. Carstarphen said she would issue an administrative response, but the decision couldn’t be avoided.

 

“We can’t take another year to debate data,” Carstarphen said. “At some point, the school board needs to give me direction. We either fish or cut bait.”

 

Carstarphen also hinted school closures would be back on the table if the financial situation worsens. If the loss to the district is significantly more than the $79 million the state has budgeted, “everything is back on the table,” she said.

 

Sabo, who is a Barton Hills Elementary parent arrived at district headquarters at 4am on Monday to sign up to speak. He told trustees that good data would build trust with the community. Parents had significant questions about the task force report’s conclusions, he said.

 

“Bad use of data will not build confidence in the public,” Sabo said.

 

Trustees also need to begin preparations for a “full-scale system-wide boundary change,” Carstarphen said. Without some decisions maximizing school facilities use, the district would only “spend ourselves out.”

 

During the vote, trustees spent a surprising amount of time discussing passing a tax ratification election, which has been rejected up to now. Campaign consultant Alfred Stanley, among others, urged the board to consider calling an election as soon as June, which Vice President Victor Torres called “too soon.”

 

AISD has not reached its tax cap. The district could access the final 9.1 cents of the available tax rate with an election, Carstarphen said, but a portion of that money would go back to the state. Of the $49 million raised with the tax increase, $22 million would have to go back to the state under the state’s so-called Robin Hood system of school finance. It could be more than that if the state changes its formula.

 

A total of 29 speakers addressed the board, from Sabo and Rather questioning the quality of the Magellan report to a slew of speakers supporting the lease of Eastside Memorial High School to East Austin College Prep. Another handful wanted to protest cutting the German language programs at specific schools.

 

A couple of speakers, including Drew Scheberle of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, praised Carstarphen for taking the tough road, drafting reduction in force policies last year that focused on keeping the district’s best teachers. The comment drew weak applause and even some boos from the audience.

 

The motion was broken out into three votes: non-renewal of professional contracts; non-renewal of teacher term contracts; and non-renewal of teachers who are on probationary contracts.

 

Trustees Tamala Barksdale and Annette LoVoi opposed cutting the professional contracts. Robert Schneider joined them on the teacher term contracts. And only LoVoi voted against the non-renewal of jobs for probationary teachers.

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