Austin ISD has been generating a lot of criticism over their proposed budget reductions lately. This article in Community Impact sums up many of the proposed measures, which include up to 485 job cuts and nine school closures.
These are ugly numbers. No one likes to think in terms of eliminating teaching positions (the AISD proposal would eliminate, for example, 174 teachers at the secondary level). Considering, however, that 88% of AISD’s budget is in personnel, it is impossible to significantly reduce education spending in this city without impacting jobs.
One is forced to ask, however, why Austin ISD cut so many teaching positions, and so few administrative posts. What is undeniable is that spending and personnel in Texas education have ballooned considerably over the last twenty years, to the tune of a 71.5% increase in over-all hires, against just a 44.5% growth in student enrollment. Non-teaching positions have increased the most in that time frame, at 76.5%.
Whether the specific strategy AISD went with should be lauded will be determined by the impact they have on the Austin school system as a whole; this is without doubt an aggressive course of action. There is certainly room for greater efficiency in Texas education. It should also be noted that districts have revenue sources that do not come directly from Texas’ general revenue, such as their local property tax base, or, in the case of places like Round Rock ISD, substantial fund balances from which to draw to ease the current financial strains.
What Austin ISD should be praised for is a willingness to make tough decisions in tough times. No state agency is going to come out of this session’s budget process unscathed. There are proposals on the table to eliminate some government bodies all together, and discretionary spending has been slashed heavily in both the House and Senate’s first budget draft. The bottom line is that schools, like everyone else, will not have as much money as they are used to having when this process is all said and done. It remains to be seen how school districts across the state will handle those cuts. AISD is taking a proactive approach to solving a substantial funding problem. The question is whether the right cuts were made.