Texas School District Set To Close 12 Schools

Austin school district officials are proposing closing 12 schools, among other cost savings that total $55.1 million, as the district faces a deficit for the third year in a row…………….but will they address their second largest expense – health insurance? They can cut millions while improving benefits at the same time but no one seems to have told them that…………………….Meanwhile a large municipality near Houston continues to sell city land to pay for health care for city employees…………..

Dec 11, 2018

By Melissa B. Taboada 

Austin school district officials are proposing closing 12 schools, among other cost savings that total $55.1 million, as the district faces a deficit for the third year in a row.

The proposal, obtained Tuesday by the American-Statesman, lists 91 ideas to cut costs and increase revenue. It doesn’t suggest campuses for closure but shows two schools could be closed as early as next school year, with seven more shuttered in 2020-21 and three more in 2021-22.

The document, which administrators said they are still working on and will change, proposes staff reductions at smaller schools, charging a fee for magnet programs on a sliding scale, reducing special education and eliminating partial pay during employee extended leave. Other options include eliminating cellphone stipends for the 427 employees who receive them and increasing student-teacher ratios for middle and high schools to 30 to 1, which had been discussed.

District staff members distributed the proposal to board members Monday night but did not publicly release it.

Reyne Telles, executive director of district communications and community engagement, told the Statesman that the “options are by no means final.”

The Austin school district administration has created a list of 91 potential ideas for cutting costs and adding revenue. They include charging fees for magnet programs like the one at Kealing Middle School in East Austin.

“Through this process, difficult discussions will be had, but we are committed to communicate openly and engage our community every step of the way as we move toward proposing a budget for board approval in June,” Telles said.

Trustee Ann Teich said students currently being taught in old buildings that are not meeting their needs “deserve a lot better.”

“It’s critical that we prepare our communities thoroughly to understand why it’s important to do some of these consolidations,” she said. “There’s an academic advantage. There’s a monetary advantage. There’s also a facility advantage.”

The proposed reductions to the operating expenses come as the district drafts its 2019-20 budget, which will be adopted in June. The district has approved spending plans with deficits for two years, including a $29 million budget shortfall this year. Budget projections show the district would deplete its reserves within three years if no changes are made.

Contributing to the district’s budget woes is its shrinking enrollment, which fell by another 1,600 students this year, which means losing millions of dollars in state funding. There are now 80,064 students in the district.

The district also is taking a hit from required payments to the state under school finance laws, which mandate property-wealthy districts share property tax revenue to help subsidize education in districts deemed property-poor. Austin’s recapture payment this year is $669.6 million, up nearly 23 percent, or $123 million, over last year. The recapture payment is projected to grow and will eclipse the amount of money the district gets to keep for its own operating expenses in two years. This year’s operating budget is $775.2 million.

Proposed Austin school district cuts

Austin district administration’s $55.1 million, 91-item list of ideas to cut costs and increase revenue includes:

  • Closing 12 unnamed campuses: $12 million
  • Increasing student-teacher ratios: $3.6 million
  • Staff reductions: $2.5 million
  • Reducing special education offerings: $1 million
  • Eliminating historic property tax exemption: $1 million

Superintendent Paul Cruz and school board members have said the district must consider all options in trimming expenses.

The effort is separate from the cuts being considered by the Budget Stabilization Task Force, a committee also looking to cut millions of dollars from the district’s budget by examining every department, program and revenue source. The group is scheduled to submit recommendations to the board in January. Task force members were unaware that the administration also was proposing cuts. The administration’s ideas appear to include some options being weighed by the task force. But the task force has voted against increasing student-teacher ratios.

“This is deeply disturbing they would release this when the Budget Stabilization Task Force is working furiously to finish our work,” said Robert Thomas, chairman of the task force. “Why would they release this and not share it with the task force? This is a complete surprise.”