Council funds AISD software, debates relationship
When it comes to using tax dollars to serve children in the Austin community, there can be a fine line between education and health and human services. Before passing an agreement Thursday to help fund truancy tracking software for the Austin Independent School District, City Council members had an impassioned discussion about the city’s role in public education.
Before the vote, Carlos Rivera, director of the Health and Human Services Department, noted that his department currently funds about $2.8 million worth of contracts with AISD, though that money does not go directly to education.
“The money all has the same intent — it’s to make sure that our children are properly resourced, especially during the after-school settings,” Rivera said, adding that the hours between 2:30 and 6 p.m. are “oftentimes when they get in trouble, when children get arrested.”
With the vote, Council authorized Health and Human Services to contract with AISD and Travis County to operate case management software that tracks chronic absenteeism so the school district can take measures to reduce it. The $15,000 agreement lasts for one year, with the option to renew for the next five years, and all three parties contribute equally.
“We have a vested interest in knowing the truancy rates of our children so that we can have adequate resources to make sure that … we can avoid further problems down the road,” Rivera said.
Council Member Don Zimmerman cast the sole opposing vote, raising concerns about the impact on city property taxes. “I think we already have some evidence here that there are millions of dollars of Austin city tax money that I don’t think our taxpayers know is already being diverted to AISD,” he said. “This is a big concern about affordability.”
Council Member Ann Kitchen responded. “We’re not talking about giving AISD dollars, we’re talking about the city’s responsibility to provide certain services to children, and those services may be best done in coordination with AISD,” she said. “I don’t want it to come across as … writing a check to AISD, because that’s not what the city is doing.”
Though Zimmerman and Kitchen did not agree on this particular item, they did agree that it is part of a broader policy issue that is worth discussing. The Health and Human Services Committee, which will meet at 4 p.m. on the first Monday of every month, will likely pick up where the discussion left off.
AISD levies its own property taxes. However, because the Travis Central Appraisal District assesses high values to properties within AISD’s jurisdiction, the state government considers it a relatively wealthy school district, and recaptures a substantial portion of taxing revenues to redistribute to school districts across the state that it considers relatively poor.
According to the AISD website, the district is “the single largest payer of recapture representing nearly 12 percent of the recapture revenue that the state collects.” At the same time, AISD notes in its current legislative agenda, “The percentage of economically disadvantaged students in AISD has grown from 48.8 percent in 1994 to 61.2 percent in 2014.”
Council Member Pio Renteria weighed in on this issue at a Council work session Tuesday, during another discussion about the truancy software contract.
“We’re trying to find a solution to the problem that we’re having with the state’s ‘Robin Hood’ program that they’re making us live by,” Renteria said. “The reason the city’s pitching in is because we don’t have to give part of our funding back to the state.”
Renteria referred to a recent study that states that “Austin has the highest level of economic segregation of any large metro in the United States.”
“If we were to divide the school district in half and put Austin ISD on the east side in their own school district,” Renteria said, “we would be receiving money from the state, because we would be considered a poor school district.”
Assistant Director for the Health and Human Services Community Services Division Stephanie Hayden said that the city will also be contributing funding for after-school programs for the Del Valle ISD effective Sept. 1.
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?