Session offers hope but AISD still considering deep cuts

Sims Elementary School in east Austin is among the school's that could be targeted for closure.

It's a drastic measure because of low enrollment at the school and financial problems facing the Austin school district.

"It will be real sad for the community because it’s been here since I was a kid, I grew up right down the street, had lots of friends that went to school there. So it will be pretty devastating for the community,” said Thera Williams.

Williams has a restaurant across the street from the school. As a businessman he understands the financial dilemma facing AISD.

More than half of the property taxes collected by the district is sent to the state under the Robin Hood formula. Williams understands the controversial funding method is designed to make wealthy school districts help those with a smaller tax base.

"Yeah, it stings.” said Williams. 

The Regular Session begins on Tuesday. House and Senate leadership have indicated that coming up with a new education funding model will be a priority. The rhetoric may sound promising, but nailing down the details is what troubles lawmakers like Donna Howard.

"So at the very least we need to make sure the state does not reduce the amount its currently putting into Public Education Do not use the property tax dollars to decrease the state's share, that would give us several opportunities because it’s about $3 and a half billion dollars we are talking about there that we could invest in Public Education and also perhaps provide some property tax relief,” said the Austin Democrat.

AISD can't wait for a legislative solution that may not take effect until buses start rolling again next fall. A budget has to be finalized by June.

"I'm more hopeful than I have been, I'll put it that way,” said Edna Butts who will track legislation for AISD during the session. 

Butts believes meaningful state reform can be achieved; helping both the district and taxpayer.

"Our school board has to take measures now, possibly they can take incremental steps to see what the legislature does do, but something has to be done in order to address our deficit,” said Butts 

That "something" is spelled out in this budget task force report. Major recommendations include;

-closing and consolidating about a dozen schools.
-redrawing school boundaries.
-eliminating the historic property tax exemption.
-moving 6th grade to middle school.
-reducing water bills by xeriscaping school grounds.
-increasing the rent groups pay to use AISD property.

A vote on the Task Force Recommendations by the school board could come next month.