At a Dec. 1 work session, the Austin ISD board of trustees discussed plans for its FY2016 budget in the face of tight finances, an upcoming legislative session and declining enrollment.
One question before the board is how it wants to address employee compensation, Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz said.
"We are looking at a multiyear financial plan by looking at our fiscal realities," Cruz said.
In August, the board approved the district's $1.05 billion budget and tax rate for fiscal year 2015 following local education leaders' call for changes in the way the state provides funding for the district. The district budgeted $24.9 million from its general fund reserves in 2015.
Budget assumptions for the FY2016 budget include a possible tax ratification election in June or November of 2015, Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley said.
"We're assuming a decline in our enrollment based on historical information for funding purposes. We're utilizing our own sort of financial estimates to develop conservative estimates initially," she said, noting the estimate is around 1,257 fewer students next year, but projections will be reevaluated in January once new demographic projections are released. This follows other enrollment declines.
Though AISD maintained past one-time salary increases in the FY2015 budget, the school district has lagged behind other local districts in terms of its teacher salaries and staff compensation.
Trustee Robert Schneider said while he thinks maintaining the one-time increases would be admirable, the district needs to do more. He proposed staff pull together data on how the district might implement a 5 percent increase this year and another 5 percent increase next year to "do whatever it takes to get us to the point where our compensation package is something that's not a burden on our employees and is comparable to what other districts are offering," he said.
He added the district should aim to decrease its class sizes.
"I'm tired of hearing stories about teachers having so many kids in their classroom that there's not desk space for the teacher, which is something I hear frequently," he said.
Trustee Lori Moya said she would support better pay for teachers but the board needs to have a conversation about what kind of tradeoffs would be necessary to make changes.
Jayme Mathias, trustee for District 2, asked how the timing of a possible tax increase would fit in with the possibility of relief from the Texas Legislature in terms of state funding. Conley explained AISD probably will not see results from the upcoming legislative session until the end of August.
AISD is required to give money to the state as part of recapture, also known as Robin Hood, Trustee Cheryl Bradley said.
"I would love to see how we can get teacher compensation at a level where they can afford to live in the city, and maybe we can get the city to understand that it has to become affordable, because if we're continuing to give money to the state our staff are not going to be able to live in the city," she said.
A draft of the FY2016 budget will be presented to the board in January, according to board documents.