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AISD, task force agree school closures needed to save money

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- As the Austin Independent School District grapples with a $30 million deficit this year, and potentially double the deficit next year, officials within the school district differ on possible solutions. 

A few weeks after district board members released a proposal to close 12 schools as a cost-cutting measure, a district-appointed task force is expected to present its own recommendations Monday night.

The Budget Stabilization Task Force agrees with board members that schools must be closed or consolidated in order to help the bottom line, but the group did not specify how many schools or which schools. They estimate that would save approximately $1 million per campus closed.

Some of the of the other suggested cost-cutting measures include: 

-- Build housing on 2,100 acres of district-owned land with hopes of increasing enrollment, raising money, and providing affordable housing for teachers. No cost savings estimate was included, though.

-- Eliminate historic property tax exemptions. AISD currently offers a tax exemption to a number of historic homes and buildings in Austin. It could raise $1 million by eliminating those.

-- Partner with charters and other educational institutions to operate struggling campuses. They believe that could generate $600,000 in savings per campus.

-- Lower taxes? The task force says the so-called "copper penny tax," which is baked into the "Robin Hood" method of recapture generates $23 million in taxes but just $2.8 million in revenue for AISD. The rest goes to schools outside of Austin. The task force recommends eliminating those taxes in hopes residents will be more willing to fund the district in other ways.

-- Leave the student-to-teacher ratio alone. The school board has recommended bumping the student-to-teacher ratio up to 30-to-1, but the task force opposed that. It did not include a cost estimate.

Read the full recommendations by the Budget Stabilization Task Force here

School finance reform is a hot-button issue in the Texas legislature this year and AISD officials hope that lawmakers will change the school finance system.

If the district doesn't create and implement a new budget plan soon, it will be unable to repay debts and will face insolvency by 2022. That means the state could take over the district, and AISD could lose its AAA credit rating.

This story was originally published on kxan.com.

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