Why is Austin ISD considering a near double-digit budget increase while student enrollment is declining and property tax bills are soaring?
That’s the question many Austinites are wondering today after waking up to reports that the district’s school board will meet later today to consider adopting a $1.1 billion budget, an overall increase of 8.9 percent over the previous year’s budget. That’s at the same time that student enrollment is set to decline this school year by 569 students, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
To help pay for all of this new spending, Austin-area taxpayers will see their property tax bills grow by an additional $168 per year. This is, of course, in addition to the $136 property tax increase being debated by city government and the $22 annual tax hike proposed by county government.
This latest budget blow-up serves to highlight not only the district’s problem with budget restraint, but also its difficulty with debt. In the district’s latest budget proposal, debt service payments constitute almost 10 cents of every dollar spent. This sizable portion of the budget is going to help pay down the district’s almost $1.2 billion in total debt.
Rather than entertain all of these big new spending increases—which necessarily mean higher taxes—district officials ought to be cutting program costs amid declining enrollment and employing tools like zero-based budgeting to weed-out inefficiencies built-up in the budget over long periods.