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Tuesday, June 21, 2016 by Courtney Griffin
AISD approves $1.3 billion budget
Trustees with the Austin Independent School District approved a $1.3 billion operating budget for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year in an 8-0-1 vote Monday night, with District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon abstaining. It is the largest budget AISD has ever considered, yet board members continued to call out the state's public education system for its unfairness.
"I just want to point out how inequitable it is that our recapture payment has gone up as substantially as it has … far exceeding by hundreds of millions of dollars any amount any other school district pays into the (fund)," said At-Large Trustee Gina Hinojosa, who will join the Texas House of Representatives in January. "It's not an equitable situation for many of our families who cannot afford to pay their property tax bills."
The district approved approximately $1.2 billion in general fund expenditures, which is a $162.7 million increase compared to last year's general fund revenue. The largest voluntary budget increase stems from a 4 percent raise for all full- and part-time employees, which equates to about a $20 million spending increase. Austin teachers, on average, make about $48,000 a year. AISD teachers are some of the lowest-paid in their profession among Central Texas school districts.
Other notable expenditures included AISD's decision to raise the minimum wage of its employees to $13 per hour -- an additional $1.2 million expenditure -- and put in place a new teacher compensation program. The new program, Professional Pathways for Teacher Compensation, allows teachers to qualify for salary increases through continual education and performance-based measures, among other means. Board members put aside an additional $3 million for the program.
The largest involuntary expenditure increase, however, was the $406 million of Austin residents' tax monies that went back to the state because of its recapture law. Under Texas law, AISD is considered a "property rich" school district, so a portion of its residents' taxes are sent back to the state to help fund "property poor" school districts. Referred to as the Robin Hood school financing system, or the recapture fund, it was created to help offset the state's lack of income tax, which is usually used to fund public education. The contentious system has long been criticized for using outdated funding formulas and has been challenged multiple times in court. Most recently, the financing system was upheld as constitutional by the Texas Supreme Court.
However, AISD did decrease some of its expenditures as well. The district is expected to spend about $4 million less in payroll. Staff members said this is largely due to the district's shrinking enrollment and subsequently lower need for teachers.
Overall, though, the increases in expenditures were offset by large jumps in revenue due to Austin's rapidly increasing property values. Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley said she expects AISD to take in about $1 billion in local tax revenue. However, final values will not be available until the end of July.
Due to debt-related savings, AISD is lowering its tax rate by 1 cent this year, to $1.19 per $100 of assessed property value. The tax rate will be finalized in August.
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