Under the stresses and uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic, Austin ISD’s latest preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020-21 shows a general fund shortfall of about $49.3 million.

According to an April 27 presentation by AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley, the coronavirus has already cost the district $7.6 million in unexpected expenses. Those include $1.5 million in remote learning costs; $3.85 million for new technology; and other expenses related to food service, communications and transportation, according to Conley. While the district will try to recuperate some of the expenses through Federal Emergency Management Agency relief and other avenues, Conley said she does not anticipate getting it all returned. She also said she knows the district will likely need to support students differently in the coming year as families need additional support due to the pandemic.

“We know the kids will come back to the district [after the summer] with new needs,” Conley said.

The 2020-21 budget also reflects what the district is calling a new reality learned through the pandemic, which is that every child needs access to a mobile computer and internet, according to AISD Technology Officer Kevin Schwartz. About $21 million is outlined in the budget to purchase devices for students, offer additional internet service and to bring on technology coaches for staff.

Overall, the preliminary general fund budget shows $1.47 billion in expenditures by the district, an increase of about $39 million compared to the 2019-20 fiscal year budget. The presented budget—which is subject to change and will not be presented to trustees for approval until June—would require the district to dip into its reserve fund, Conley said.

As presented, the district’s reserve would drop from $288.3 million to $239 million. While lower, the fund would still be above the district’s policy to have at least 20% of expenses available in the reserve.

About $22.35 million of additional new budget investments were included in the plan, including about $8 million for special education staff and services; $7.2 million in staffing allocations; and $3 million in operating costs for the new Southwest Elementary School, which is scheduled to open in August.

About $606.3 million is expected to go to the state of Texas in the form of recapture payments in FY 2020-21.