Austin ISD discusses preliminary 2019-20 budget, House Bill 3 impacts

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Austin ISD will not adopt its official fiscal year 2019-20 budget until June, but trustees had a discussion about the preliminary budget at a workshop April 8.

About $29.4 million in cost cutting and savings outlined in the 2019-20 budget are to make up an anticipated budget shortfall of $65 million and to help support increased spending towards district priorities, according to AISD Chief of Business and Operations Nicole Conley Johnson.

“We all know we’ve been experiencing declining enrollment, we’ve lost over 6,000 kids in the last five years; increasing recapture is putting enormous budgetary pressures on the district; and we were utilizing our reserves as a means to balance our budget,” she said.

The district continues to plan its budget despite uncertain legislative actions that could impact it in the future. House Bill 3 was approved by the Texas House on April 3, and while it is likely to help district funding, is can undergo further changes as it is evaluated by the senate, Conley Johnson said. The district is creating the budget assuming no changes in funding, she said.

“HB3 presents us with an opportunity to pick up a substantial amount of new revenue across the district,” she said. “We have hopes that it will reach the governor for signing but we don’t know. There are still a lot of things that aren’t certain.”

District investments

The preliminary budget invests $8.49 million more in board priorities compared to the 2018-19 budget. Priorities include meeting local and state performance measures, assuring students are reading by grade three and being competitive in teacher salaries and benefits, according to the district.

Over $2 million of that is being invested in elementary reading curriculum and new literacy and reading specialist positions. About $1.7 million is being invested to continue campus mental health centers.

Other increases in funding could go to campus security, projected as a $565,000 increase compared to 2018-19, and about a $790,000 increase for special education costs, according to the preliminary budget.

District cuts and savings

Compared to the 2018-19 budget, the preliminary plan outlines a total of $29.4 million in decreases or savings.

Some of those saving, about $1.23 million, will come from reorganizing district administration and academic positions. While there will not be a reduction in current employees, district staff said some positions that are currently vacant will be eliminated. Other staff could be moved to different positions. About $3.4 million in savings could be seen through staffing reductions due to lower enrollment.

Possible House Bill 3 impacts

According to Conley Johnson, some of the latest projections show that AISD could pay about $194 million less in recapture payments through HB3. The district could also see $126.5 million in additional revenue through the bill.

However, the district is still unsure how much of that money saved could be used for programs and campuses, as opposed to state mandates the dollars could be designated for, she said. Also, while revenues increase in year one under HB3, those returns are reduced by $20 million in year two and beyond.

“We have to move forward [with our budget process] even though there are many questions that are currently unanswered at this time,” she said.

Other obstacles for the district include continued enrollment decreases. Conley Johnson said the district anticipates losing 7,000 students over the next 8-10 years, and each student lost results in a reduction in state revenue.

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Nicholas Cicale
Nick was born in Long Island, New York and grew up in South Florida. He graduated from Florida State University in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in writing and a minor in music. Nick was a journalist for three years at the St. James Plaindealer in Minnesota before moving to Austin to join Community Impact Newspaper in 2016.
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