Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde in a Dec. 13 press conference proposed salary increases and addressed the possibility of staff cuts and reduced electives as the district faces an estimated $62 million budget shortfall.

Elizalde said she is proposing a 2% increase and a $1,000 bump in salary for teachers and an increase from about $13.50 an hour to $16 in starting pay for classified staff, such as janitorial staff. There would be increases for those who make more than the starting pay as well.

The proposal is for the 2022-23 budget, which the board of trustees will vote on in June. The teacher salary increase would affect about 5,000 individuals, while the classified staff raise would affect about 2,000.

“[Teachers] certainly deserve more,” Elizalde said. “But just because we can give them everything they deserve doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our very best.”

In regard to the support staff, she said she cannot in good conscience ask those employees to work for the current $13 starting wage.

She said the money for these raises would come from the central office. So far, about 60 positions have been cut through attrition, resulting in $4.8 million in savings. Her goal is to find additional cuts that would total $11.8 million. She said 10-15 filled positions could be eliminated. Those individuals would be notified in January and be offered the chance to apply to other district jobs if possible.

She said teachers do not need to worry about layoffs.

“Central office needs to lead when we have these budget cuts,” Elizalde said.

Elizalde’s announcement comes as teachers and board members have expressed concern about teacher burnout, vacancies and retention.

She said there have been discussions about changing secondary school schedules to seven periods, down from eight, which prematurely worried many community members. She said those changes will not happen.

Elizalde said the district is working hard to avoid cutting electives. She said she hopes much of the budget shortfall can be addressed through attrition, the process of leaving empty positions unfilled, and by shuffling around resources.

She said the district has about 150 teacher vacancies, but it is overstaffed by about 300 teachers, meaning some teachers need to be moved around. Staff is working to adjust schedules as the current plan has some classrooms overfilled and some with too many open seats, Elizalde said. About 500 teachers leave the district every year, as part of the district's normal turnover, and the district expects more teachers than normal to leave due to teacher burnout, Elizalde said. This will help with the overstaffing without having to lay anyone off, she said.

According to a district press release, moving teachers could save about $21 million.

Elizalde said these changes are part of reaching a balanced budget for the 2022-23 school year, but more will need to be done.

While the board has passed budgets with deficits before, it cannot do so for the upcoming year. When a budget has a deficit, that means the district is planning to make up the difference using its fund balance—essentially a savings account. This year, the district does not have enough cash in that fund to make up the shortfall without falling below a mandated level. The state asks districts to reserve 90 days' worth of operation costs in their fund balance. AISD’s goal is 72 days. Falling below these levels can threaten the district’s financial standing, according to AISD staff.

For the 2021-22 school year, the district is facing a $62 million shortfall, due impart to underenrollment, according to district staff. The district had roughly 3,000 fewer students enroll for the 2021-22 year than expected, resulting in an estimated $15 million loss.