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A-TISD balances budget in spite of state funding cuts
by Dr. Antonio Aquirre- Austwell-Tivoli ISD Superintendent
Sep 27, 2011 | 962 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Several weeks have gone by of this new school year and everything seems to be settling into business as usual. The fact is that business as usual has a slight twist this year.

All schools in Texas have had to make changes of some sort to be able to make ends meet. With losses of monies some cases called for radical changes — especially in dealing with personnel. There was a time when one could say if you go into education you may not make much money but you can always be assured of job security.

As we have all seen, this is changing; a new wave is taking place. Many school districts found it safer to release the newer teachers due to how the educational system operates. It makes it easier to dismiss beginning teachers.  

The only salvation that may be positive is that the loss in one district may mean a gain in another who will hire a beginning teacher for a needed position because the cost will be less-still having to cope with budget cuts.

I want to thank Mr. Jack Gaskin, Refugio’s superintendent for all the information he has provided the county in the area of school finance. He has done a tremendous job of detailing the ins and outs of what has taken place in Austin to help the community understand the impact it has had on our school districts.

Many formulas are tossed around to rationalize the actions of those responsible for our plight. This also includes statements by a Texas government official claiming it was not Austin letting teachers go but actions by local school boards. That is technically correct but these actions were based on actions set forth by Austin.

Let’s look at an analogy that may shed some light on our current status. A family has been surviving on a breadwinner’s salary of $70,000, therefore, they have structured their lives to that amount and everything is good. For some reason or another a breadwinner loses his job. The market is not favorable to the extent that he will acquire a similar position with a salary as he had before.

He finds a new job paying a lot less-now the family must adjust and make cuts in their budget in order to survive. That same structure is applicable to school districts. If the money is not there, it is not possible to keep offering what had been in place the previous year.

Budgets must be reduced at the expense of programs facilities, and more so, personnel cuts.

There are some districts that may have had more personnel than necessary but this is not so in all cases. Our school district is a very small 1A school with just enough personnel to make it work. When it came time to prepare our budget, cutting staff was not a viable option — we needed all positions.

The fact remains when cuts have to be made personnel are looked at because salaries make the bulk of any school district’s budget. We did not let go of any personnel. That is not to say that changes did not take place.

Our elementary principal was assigned and graciously accepted the position of K-12 principal. The original position of the high school principal was eliminated.

Our business person was retiring thus it allowed the district to fill the vacancy with the person having been the high school principal. One program that was cut was the high school art program. The art teacher is still employed teaching two classes of Spanish.

Teacher and administrator conferences have been reduced, if not eliminated in some cases. The superintendent’s conferences have also been deleted as well as reduction in expenses for board member conferences.

One major component of the budget impacting each and every one in our district was freezing salaries for this year. Making further cuts became an issue of addressing each item in question as to whether it was a needed item or simply a want.

After scrutinizing every aspect of our budget we were able to create a balanced budget. We are proud of our budget for a couple of reasons. Our children’s needs came first thus very little of the cuts will impact them. Oh, maybe fewer field trips but that is about it.

District personnel were supportive of all reductions including the fact they knew it would mean less money for them. I appreciate the manner in which everyone has supported our efforts to make it work from staff/faculty, our school board, and the community which entrusts us to provide the best we can for their children.

TAKS Testing

From reading the newspapers one would think that the primary job of a school is to prepare and succeed in TAKS testing. Scores are published just like football results for all to see how one school compares to another.

It should not be surprising to read of some school district making headlines on the possibility of cheating on TAKS testing. The pressure seems to increase yearly with new changes made by the Texas Education Agency.

The bar is raised-scores were too high the previous year-so standards to achieve are increased. The results should not have surprised anyone.

To add insult to the matter, schools not reaching a certain level are looked as not having done their job. This train of thought can be damaging to a community believing statistical data which encompasses many facets promoting either success or failure are the only indicators of a good school.

If all the hullabaloo of increasing TAKS has much merit why is Texas rated 34th in national standing. Could it be we are neglecting to concentrate on other aspects of teaching due to so much emphasis placed on TAK?

Our district schools received the rating of recognized. The previous year we were exemplary. In light of the new standards we more or less knew the outcome.

Our teachers prepared students as well as they had in the past. I am personally satisfied in the approach they take all the time. Being a district with fewer students can work against you. It won’t take many students to skew scores one way or the other. What seems to help us is that there is not a lot of variance among the different subgroups looked at.

What truly makes a school great? I really don’t have an answer but I think if every employee, every student, every school board member, and everyone in the community believes in the common goal of success in all areas, the result has to be positive.  

We may not have all the bells and whistles that bigger schools may offer but we manage to provide our students with the skills necessary to succeed.

I am proud to be superintendent of Austwell-Tivoli ISD and believe we have a great school district.

We currently have 152 students in our district - 39 are transfer students.

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