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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 by Claire McInerny
Austin ISD school board approves $1.6 billion budget, after public calls to defund AISD Police
The Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees passed a $1.65 billion budget early Tuesday, taking $47.6 million from the district’s reserve funds to make up for a shortfall partly caused by COVID-19 expenses.
The budget also includes 2% raises for staff, more money for dual-language programs and more funding for certified academic language therapists, in an attempt to get more students reading on grade level.
Almost 100 members of the community called in during public comment to ask the district not to put more money toward the Austin ISD Police Department. Callers echoed requests from the Austin Justice Coalition to move that money away from policing and toward programs that deal with students’ mental health and emotional needs.
AJC also requested for transparent and public information on the district’s website about AISD Police, including a budget breakdown and use-of-force data.
Before the budget vote, Trustee Cindy Anderson agreed AISD could be better about sharing data about the police department. She also clarified that the AISD Police is its own force and not associated with the city’s police department. She said that means staff are trained differently, to work with juveniles and prioritize restorative practices.
In the previous budget, the police department received around $9 million and social and emotional learning programs received around $10 million.
“Currently, we invest more in mental health, social emotional learning and restorative practices combined than we do our law enforcement department,” Anderson said.
Superintendent Paul Cruz said the new budget does not fund new police officers, but does pay for positions within the police department that specifically address these emotional needs.
“If there’s a situation where they need social/emotional support, that person would be a connector to the student and the school,” Cruz said about these non-officer positions.
During the meeting, Cruz also addressed the confusion about what school could look like in August. While details are still not finalized, the superintendent said families should expect a hybrid of in-person classes and online learning. Families who want their children to only do online learning will be able to.
Cruz also said each school will be able to adjust its schedule accordingly; for example, if a student or family tests positive for COVID-19, the entire school could go online but that wouldn’t affect the rest of the district.
The Texas Education Agency will announce Tuesday how it plans to fund schools in the fall and is expected to give more guidance on how Texas schools can open for in-person classes in August.
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