AUSTIN — For five months, 24 people examined every program in the Austin Independent School District, looking for ways to save money.
Monday night, the members of the Budget Stabilization Task Force presented the results of their study to AISD Trustees: more than 40 ideas on how to cut $30 million from next year's AISD budget.
In the list of recommendations made Monday night, no specific schools were on the chopping block. Members of the task force said that was intentional. They felt it wasn’t their place to make that decision, instead they looked at schools as a whole.
Although no specific schools were mentioned, magnet schools did come up. The task force addressed the need for the district to take a closer look at what it costs for them to get students to and from those schools because, generally, that cost is high. In the discussion, the task force mentioned the district is where it is today because the inability of previous boards to make the tough decisions.
It's been previously reported that the task force suggested getting rid of the three current magnet programs at Fulmore Middle School, Kealing Middle School and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy or LASA at LBJ High School.
Which baffles parents like Janet Wenzel. When she first heard about this idea, her reaction was, "you're not serious? I don't understand," she explained.
Wenzel is trying to comprehend why successful magnet programs are even being considered.
"Why would you mess that up," she asked.
She has a seventh-grader at Kealing Middle School, where her daughter is thriving. She likes the focus on STEM. Wenzel likes the diversity. The task force recommends replacing the three magnet schools with a magnet program in all schools.
"If you're taking this program away, then students are forced, if they have the means, to go to private schools, taking them out of AISD," said Wenzel.
Task Force member Ken Zarifis understands Wenzel's concern. Zarifis is also the president of Education Austin, a labor union for teachers and other district employees. He said the group did a deep dive of the district's financials and programs.
"This means we have to look at everything. We know if this deficit goes on for the next four or five years, that we have to be looking at the classroom," said Zarifis.
Other ideas the task force are looking at: closing and consolidating schools, redrawing boundaries, and eliminating sixth-grade classrooms in elementary schools.
But Zarifis said the task force isn't recommending action right now. He wants to wait and see what state lawmakers do first.
The budget crisis comes at the same time the district is sending more money to the state thanks to the Robin Hood Law. This involves money that will go to other districts in Texas. Last year, AISD sent the state nearly $670 million, which accounted for more than half its property tax revenue.
The board did not vote on the proposals Monday night. They only discussed them and will vote at a later date. The budget should be finalized in June.
For more information on the recommendations, click here.