Austin school district spends $65M to compensate employees while facing deficits

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(The Center Square) – The Austin Independent School District gave out $65 million in pay increases to its staff in its 2024 budget.

The district’s budget also projects that its total expenditures will have exceeded its total revenues from 2018-19 through 2025-26. The yearly cost over runs range from $139.1 million to as high as $376 million.

The district said it is using its reserves and federal emergency COVID-19 relief funds to offset the deficits. The district stated it used $52.2 million of reserves and $19.6 million in federal emergency money in the 2024 budget.

The district said that using its reserves “is no longer an option” due to declining enrollment and a decrease in state aid.

Total revenue to the district has increased from $1.7 billion in 2018-19 to a projected $2.2 billion in 2023-24.

Austin has to give back a large chunk of its revenue to the state so that it can then be shared with other poorer school districts. The state’s so-called “Robin Hood” plan meant that Austin had to give $845.9 million of its revenue back to the state in fiscal year 2023. The district projected that from 2002 to 2023, it gave the state back $6 billion in “Robin Hood” money.

The school district said raising compensation of employees was part of its strategy. It highlighted in bold the statement, “Our top priority is providing raises for all regular staff.”

The district continued, “AISD values its employees and works hard to make sure they are appropriately compensated. We are setting the standard in Central Texas with our comprehensive compensation and benefits package.”

The district approved $65 million in compensation increases in 2023-24 while still facing a $52 million deficit in the same year.

According to budget documents, the district has been overspending by hundreds of millions of dollars for the past four years and projects the spending to continue. The budget shows that since 2018, the district has been overspending each year, from $139.1 million in 2018 to $230.8 million in 2023.

Austin Independent School District projects $222.9 million in deficits for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The district has been using federal COVID-19 relief money to pay some of the existing salaries and announced the adopted $1.86 billion budget in June 2023.

The adopted budget includes the following:

Minimum hourly rate of $20 an hour7% increase for teachers, librarians, counselors, instructional coaches, and other special education-related services.5% increase for administrative professionals (high school principals and directors) and a 3% increase for executives and above.20% increase for based salary Licensed specialist in school psychology and ed diagnosticiansIncreased stipends for bilingual and special education staff to $7,000 each, with the expansion of qualified positions.$3,500 stipends for qualified positions$15 million for related additional campus staffing, including athletic teachers, counselors, assistant principals, essential area teachers, instructional coaches, teachers, and licensed specialists in school psychology.$1.7 million for the reinstatement of the AISD research and evaluation department, an ombudsman position, and the expansion of the Literacy First program.

After using $19.6 million in ESSER fund reimbursements for COVID-related expenditures, the adopted budget included $52.2 million in reserves.

The district generates state revenue to support public education through attendance. The budget states that the district will continue to face challenges due to “increased expenses driven by increasing payments as a result of declining student enrollment and growing property values.”

Austin Independent School District did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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