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AISD budget task force begins tackling $30M deficit

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 by Samantha Zern

At the Monday night meeting of the AISD Budget Stabilization Task Force, the 31-member group focused on establishing priorities and procedures as it begins the process of developing recommendations to balance the district’s budget.

The task force, made up of Austin Independent School District staff, parents and community members, began looking at the current and projected state of finance in AISD as a first step in reducing the district’s deficit. As a result of increasing recapture payments to the state and decreasing district enrollment, AISD is facing a $30 million budget deficit for the 2018-19 school year. District officials anticipate that this number could grow to a $70 million shortfall the following year.

The task force was organized earlier this summer with the mission of finding strategies to balance the budget over the next few years. In particular, the task force will evaluate the academic return on investment of various programs and the efficiency of resource allocation and district revenue options, and it will provide a set of annual targets and options for deficit reduction to the superintendent.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with staff, taking the guidance and feedback we got from the members and making sure that the staff gives us the targeted information that we are asking for to help us be able to make these decisions,” Robert Thomas, co-chair of the task force, said.

At the meeting, AISD financial staff, including Executive Director of Financial Services David Edgar, Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson, and Director of Budget and Planning Travis Zander reviewed the process of education funding in Texas, the state of AISD’s revenue and expenditures, and the projected trends for the district’s budget over the coming years.

While the members of the group are still in the process of learning the background of AISD’s financial situation, they are also beginning to take steps toward looking at areas where the district may be able to address spending. In particular, task force member Helen Miller requested a list of all vendor contracts with the district over $20,000, so that she and other members of the task force could get an idea of where exactly funding goes, and where it may be flexible. Other task force members, like Jason Durst, requested that the group look toward peer districts for ideas and inspiration.

“People are already anxious to start getting into some meat and diving in,” Thomas said.

Much of the conversation at the Monday night meeting touched on parts of the district’s expenditures that are out of the control of the task force and the district itself, like the mandatory recapture payments. District officials felt it important that the task force understand the context of AISD’s budget struggles in order for it to be able to move forward appropriately. In the coming sessions, the task force will shift its focus to areas of the budget it can adjust.

In the future, the task force will look more deeply into the efficacy and efficiency of spending on various projects throughout the district, and it may consider suggesting reallocating funds or ending ineffective initiatives altogether. Its process will continue to be supported by AISD staff, both from the financial office, as well as other key departments.

“As I understand it, (AISD staff is) going to bring in individual departmental experts to present on their own individual areas as we dive deeper into programmatic areas,” Thomas said. “They’re going to be talking to us about their roles, responsibilities and programmatic areas, and that will then also advise and guide us.”

The next task force meeting will take place July 30. Throughout the process, members of the AISD community are encouraged to participate in the discussion online through the task force’s MindMixer forum.

Photo from Google Maps.

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