Monthly Archives: October 2013

AISD’s Financial Quagmire – Is This Their Perfect Storm?

By Bill Oakey

October 6, 2013

You have probably seen the news reports that AISD has lost student enrollment this year.  They lost around 1,200 students for a variety of reasons, most notably the lack of home affordability in Austin.  The median home price here is the highest of any major city in the state, at $227,600.  That figure is very misleading however, since so many central city neighborhoods haven’t seen home prices that low in about 20 years.

Where Have Urban Austin’s Children Gone?

District officials should have seen the enrollment drop coming, but instead their demographer predicted a 250 student enrollment increase.  Perhaps AISD bureaucrats should consider reading an Austin affordability blog.  The migration of families with children to the outskirts of Austin is nothing new.  We all witnessed the plans for closing Zilker Elementary and some other schools just two and a half years ago.  At that time, the Austin American-Statesman ran a captivating story entitled, “Where Have Urban Austin’s Children Gone?”

Neighborhood parents rose up to successfully protest the school closings, but the handwriting was on the wall.  Then there is the whole question of the reputation of Austin schools and where people choose to live in hopes of finding the highest quality schools.  Affordability plays a wicked role in that battle, since some of the most affordable homes are in sections of town with low student achievement. On top of that, there has been a growing trend of low-income families fleeing to the suburbs because of high inner-city housing costs and high property taxes. But increasingly, more and more middle class families are leaving for the same reasons. Austin is fast becoming a destination for luxury homeowners, with fancy condos and townhouses mixed in with oversized McMansions.

A Legacy of High Spending and Top-Heavy Administration

In my taxpayer advocacy days of the 1980’s, I ofter referred to AISD as the Austin Inefficient School District.  I clearly remember that they typically maintained the highest per student costs in 8 out of 11 categories among the largest districts in the state.  Just four years ago in 2009, I met with then superintendent Pat Forgione and a couple of the board members to discuss AISD’s property tax rates.  That year they called for a “tax ratification election,” which is a State sanctioned local option for school districts to ask voters for a supplemental property tax increase.  This brings the total annual increase above the normally allowed cap.

In my meeting with the superintendent, I was told that the tax increase was necessary to keep teacher salaries competitive.  And that if those salaries ever fell too far behind,  it would be nearly impossible to catch up, given that the State Legislature does not fund schools adequately.  The local tax increase option passed with no organized opposition.

Fast forward to 2013.  We are clearly not living in the same Austin anymore.  The voters’ surprising defeat of two out of four school bond propositions in the spring was not the first cost related AISD issue to hit the newspapers this year.  Back in January, the American-Statesman reported that the number of administrators with six-figure incomes has increased 63% in the last five years.  A large chunk of that occurred in a single year, when the number of six-figure bureaucrats jumped 25% between 2012 and 2013.  It’s as if AISD feels compelled to join the private sector in extending the ever widening gap between rank and file workers and the privileged executives at the top.

The Winds Gather for the Perfect Storm

AISD teachers and staff did receive a pay raise for the new 2014 fiscal year that began this month.  However, the raises are not permanent since the funds were drawn from reserves.  So, how can the district restore funds for teacher pay raises next year?  The answer is another tax increase election on top of whatever regular tax increase would come in the 2015 budget. Nothing much will be happening to spook taxpayers next fall, other than three overlapping bond proposals totaling at or above a billion dollars.

AISD faces a daunting financial quagmire in the coming years.  If student enrollment continues to decline, the revenue loss of $7,400 per student would trigger a confounding question.  What could they do abut it?  This year alone, the district stands to lose $8.6 million.  If high living costs and high taxes are driving families away, raising taxes even higher to cover their losses would only make the problem worse.

District Judge John Dietz, who presides over the highly complex Texas school finance lawsuit will resume the trial in January, based on new evidence.  The Legislature restored much of the school funding that had been cut in the 2011 legislative session.  The State has vowed to appeal any court decision that awards more money to the schools.  In fact, the school funding bill that passed in this year’s session was crafted precisely in a manner that would help win the appeal.

If AISD finds itself back to square one, with declining student enrollment and no local appetite for increasing property taxes, they could be headed for financial trouble.  This is not a good time for that to happen, especially since the recently elected school board ran in opposition to the management decisions and personality of Superintendent Maria Carstarphen.

We can only hope that the new board can muster the gumption to steer the district in a direction of leaner spending.  At the same time, they need to restore the confidence of parents that their children will receive a quality education, while fostering an administrative attitude that welcomes citizen input instead of arrogantly rejecting it.


Drab Walls Project Underway In Austin

By Bill Oakey

October 5, 2013

Readers of this blog have been kept informed on current developments involving the high cost of living in Austin.  Gradual progress is being made towards reform in some areas, while efforts are underway in others.

It has come to our attention that some people need an escape from problems like high property taxes and AISD losing student population in the schools.  (A blog posting on that issue is coming soon).  If you happen to be someone who occasionally suffers from stress in your life, or you know anybody else like that, this information is for you and for them.  Please pass it along.

Studies have shown that people who undergo stress on the job or at home often do not realize that they are surrounded by too many drab walls.  The good news is that a solution for that problem has been found.  You can now brighten up the walls in your home, office, or the lobby of your building in an efficient and very affordable manner.

Below you will find examples of the same wall, looking dull and drab in one scene, yet perky and vibrant in another.  Following those examples, you will find a link to a location where you can purchase the right combination of attractively priced alternatives to the drab walls in your life.

Dull, Drab Wall

Dull, Drab Wall

Bright, Vibrant Wall

Bright, Vibrant Wall

Click here to see samples and visiting hours for the new “Side By Side” art show by Bill Oakey and Debbi Smith Rourke.

Come and Relax In a Downtown Austin Hotel

By Bill Oakey

October 2, 2013

If you have friends or relatives who have not been to Austin lately, now would be a great time to invite them.  The Austin City Limits Festival runs for two weekends, beginning this Friday.

You should recommend a ten-day stay to your visitors.  The best downtown hotels are only charging $320.00 per night.  So, you could soak up some sun at the festival, which has very little shade, and relax in the hotel at night.  The room rate for the 10 night stay is only $3,200.00.

It is not too late to get a VIP pass for next weekend’s music fest.  This weekend is already sold out.  A VIP pass is only $1,050.00, so why not bring the entire family?  If you would rather enjoy platinum VIP passes, the kind folks at the festival will gladly accommodate you at 888-519-0382.  You will be pleased to know that I have already called to check on the pricing.  Platinum VIP passes are only $3,600.00 apiece.

To assist your friends and save them some time, I can advise you on the perks that come with each type of festival pass.  With the regular VIP pass, you get VIP parking, as long as you purchase a minimum of four passes, which comes to only $4,200.00.  The other perks include gourmet happy hours and air conditioned restrooms.

If you prefer the platinum VIP pass, you will enjoy flushable air conditioned restrooms, access to a VIP Lounge in a tent, plus on-site concierge service and highbrow seating.  A free shuttle from downtown is included, but parking is not mentioned in the offer.  These passes would be ideal for a family of four, since the total price would be only $14,400.00.

For your convenience, I have itemized the hotel and festival options below.  Keep in mind that single day festival tickets are not offered this year.  And since we’re talking about Austin, I assume that you would not be interested in any category below VIP status:

1. 10-Day Downtown Hotel Stay Plus 3 Day VIP Festival Pass

Single Person – Only $4,250.00

Couple – Only $5,300.00

Family of 4 With 2 Hotel Rooms – Only $10,600.00

2. 10-Day Downtown Hotel Stay Plus 3 Day Platinum VIP Festival Pass

Single Person – Only $6,800.00

Couple – Only $10,400.00

Family of 4 With 2 Hotel Rooms – Only $20,800.00

My sincere apologies for not getting this posting done soon enough for you to invite your friends to attend the festival for both weekends.  But you can ask them to mark their calendars for next year.  They can plan to bring a family of four to ACL Fest 2014, stay for 10 days and enjoy Platinum VIP passes for both weekends for only $32,000.00.  (Please be advised that this amount is based on 2013 rates and is subject to change).