Tag Archives: KXAN

Huge Enrollment Drop Coming To AISD

By Bill Oakey, January 12, 2018, Updated January 15, 2018

Two years ago, KXAN’s Kylie McGivern reported that AISD was projected to lose 6,140 students over the next decade. Since then, the school district has struggled to try to slow down this trend. Last year they implemented a new policy to allow out-of-district students to transfer free to AISD. That effort yielded some positive results, but not enough to change the fact that significant enrollment declines will continue. In an upcoming blog piece, I will delve into the latest numbers and discuss the demographics and housing aspects. Why is all of this happening? Most of it comes down to one word:

Affordability!

Austin’s precarious real estate boom is bringing lots of young hipsters and couples without children to town, who are living in multi-unit housing complexes. Families with children, living in single-family homes, are being taxed out of their homes in alarming numbers. See the KXAN news story for some perspective on what one of those families is going through. They do not want to leave Austin, and it’s a crying shame that so many are being forced out.

To add insult to injury, the second highest cost impact on family budgets, next to housing, is transportation. Most of the new roads being built for commuters are planned as toll roads. And nearly all of those will have so-called “managed lanes.” Those are the ones where the toll rates rise as the traffic increases. Longtime residents who have paid their taxes and contributed to their community for most of their lives will be forced to pay high monthly toll bills. Or else, they’ll be confined to the slow lanes, as they watch the wealthy zip by them in the express lanes. The deck is stacked against the very people who worked to make Austin the prime destination that it has become.

What Are the Implications for Taxpayers and AISD?

The financial impact of the big enrollment drop on AISD will be devastating. We need only to look to Portland to see what that trend looks like. Portland saw a massive school enrollment drop in the 1980’s, as they transitioned into a wealthy enclave. The big difference is that today Portland has a very efficient public transportation system that includes rail.

It is highly unlikely that Austin will ever be able to afford a citywide rail system. That’s because the City already has a daunting list of over $8 billion worth of plans. Rail is not on that list. Voters have already approved bond packages totaling $1.7 billion in City and AISD bonds in the last two years. And hundreds of millions in additional bond projects are in the pipeline. The City is on a scary path toward raising property taxes to the legal maximum of 8% every year. Where is all that money supposed to come from?  Do they think we all have sacks full of money just lying around? How much debt can the City handle? And most importantly, is this kind of cost spiral even sustainable. I think not!

As for AISD, they are most likely headed for an “affordability perfect storm.” The State’s Robin Hood school finance system, known as “recapture,” diverts hundreds of millions of dollars of our local tax money into other school districts across Texas. Consider this quote from AISD’s website:

“Austin ISD is the single largest payer of recapture in the state. Our payment alone comprises 13 percent of all state collections. During the next five years—between fiscal years 2016 and 2020—Austin ISD is projected to pay almost $2.6 billion in recapture payments to the state. By 2019, more than half of every tax dollar collected in Austin will go to the state.”

AISD’s projected student enrollment drop only exacerbates the problem. Fewer students generate less State revenue. AISD receives $7,390 annually for each student enrolled. It’s easy to see that declines of several hundred students per year translate into millions of dollars lost.

Whenever district officials recommend consolidating or closing under-enrolled schools, parents complain and slow down the inevitable transition. The delays lead to costly expenses to operate and maintain those schools. Meanwhile, as home property appraisals, school operating costs and bond payments escalate, taxpayers get slammed with a cost spiral that forces them to leave Austin. That generates further enrollment declines. The only way out of this vicious cycle would be school finance reform at the State Legislature. We need much more public focus on that issue, along with a coordinated effort by City, County and AISD officials to push for reform. Failure to achieve that goal could imperil Austin’s hopes for continued economic success.

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KXAN Investigates Millions in Uncollected City Parking Tickets

Follow on Twitter – @AAffordability

By Bill Oakey, November 21, 2017

More than once I have had to put my socks back on after having them knocked off by a KXAN investigation. This morning I was jolted awake by the voice of top news reporter, Kylie McGivern on the radio. She was talking up the latest KXAN investigation about uncollected City parking tickets. Maybe I was still asleep, but it sounded like she said they add up to over $7 million! If it’s even close to that, let’s hope some of it can be recovered quickly. If they don’t really need the money, why are we having to pay for so much for parking?

To find out all the details, set your DVR’s or just plop down on the couch and tune in to KXAN tonight at 10:00. It’s a riot to watch their reporters look public officials in the eye, and ask what in the heck is going on. Quite often, we learn in the ensuing days or weeks that some important reforms have taken place as a result of a KXAN investigation. Since I don’t personally know anybody bold enough to shake things up like that, I find it quite fascinating to behold. I might just try to meet this Kylie McGivern sometime…

KXAN Investigative Reporter, Kylie McGivern

You can still catch up on some of KXAN’s previous investigations. There’s a lot of smoke left in some of them, including the one on toll road bill collection “customer service.” I plan to delve into that after Thanksgiving. Check out their website for any investigations that you might have missed. Here are just a few really juicy ones:

  1. TxTag Troubles: Nearly $1 Billion Added to TxTag Accounts as Billing Woes Continue
  2. HOA Law Loophole Leaves Some Homeowners Powerless
  3. Your Driver License Information Is Being Sold By the State for a Profit
  4. Risky Rides: Unscrupulous Dealerships Selling Salvage Vehicles to Customers
  5. Visit Austin Spent Thousands of Dollars In Concert Tickets, Alcohol, Jewelry

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting:

“Dirty Laundry” – Don Henly

Another Huge City Management Failure – The 911 Call Center Fiasco

By Bill Oakey – May 29, 2014

Update: Please see City staff response at the end of this posting.

In two recent blog postings, I pointed out the fact that the City operated from last summer through the end of December with over 900 vacant staff positions funded in the budget.  And yet, here we are eight months into the fiscal year with the 911 Call Center seriously understaffed.  The workers are so severely stressed that they have a 20% turnover rate for call takers and 25% for dispatchers.  Overtime costs are soaring, citizen wait times for emergency calls have increased, and the City Manager has allowed the situation to continue.

For the past two years in the budget process, the Emergency Communications Division, which is under the Police Department, has requested more staff.  Both times the requests were denied. Now, as we approach the third budget cycle, we learn that finally, a new City report is forthcoming that will highlight the seriousness of the issue.  The Public Safety Commission will include this topic on their agenda at their June 2nd meeting.

On yesterday’s news broadcasts, a KXAN investigative report based on seven months of research spelled out the troubling details.  You can watch the KXAN video and read about it here.  The broadcast revealed high amounts of staff absences for sick leave and stressful overtime requirements.  It is not cost effective to operate a critical public safety office in such a manner. Having to constantly rehire and train new people does not serve the taxpayers well.  Especially in an environment where over 900 citywide staff vacancies were fully funded in this year’s budget.

It is long past time for someone at City Hall to step up and deal with this problem.  How much worse does it have to get before they take action?  This issue illustrates one more reason why we desperately need new leadership, both at the management and City Council levels.

Update: City Staff Unmet Service Demand Dated May 20th

As part of the annual budget process, City financial staff has made a recommendation for 61 new non-sworn police staff positions.  These include some new staff for the 911 Call Center, although the exact number is not specified.  See Page 33, Item 5 in the staff recommendation. This provides hope that some relief may be coming in October.  In the meantime, at the Citizens Forum on Saturday, I will ask the City Council to transfer at least $1 million in surplus funds to pay for new staff between now and the end of September.