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As the city prospers around them, Austin teachers may miss out

Even though Austin, Texas, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation and a magnet for the technology and arts industries, not every sector is enjoying the good times. Many students live below the poverty line, and some of their teachers are struggling to pay the rent. KLRU's Allison Sandza reports.

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  • ALLISON SANDZA, KLRU:

     Lupe Rodriguez is a high school Spanish teacher, a coach, and a part-time soccer referee. And he’s spending his Sunday morning the same way he spent Saturday, refereeing a soccer game for extra income.

  • LUPE RODRIGUEZ, HIGH SCHOOL SPANISH TEACHER:

     I’ve been doing that for about a year and a half, for a couple of different reasons. Obviously the extra income, I enjoy soccer, so I’m lucky enough that I’m able to do something that gives me exercise, lets me see soccer. And provides a little bit of extra income.

  • ALLISON SANDZA, KLRU:

     Jim Fulbright is in a similar situation. Like Rodriguez, and so many other teachers in Austin, he’s having trouble making ends meet.

  • JIM FULBRIGHT, HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER:

     What I do find is that with the amount of money that I make working for the school district I am dipping into my savings continuously.

  • ALLISON SANDZA:

     Median home prices have increased 34 percent in the last four years in the Austin area, while teacher pay has gone up only 5 percent in recent years.

    This has forced many Austin teachers far into the suburbs to afford homes to buy.

  • DR. LORI TAYLOR, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY:

    The rate of increase has clearly been most rapid in Austin and then most rapid would be the San Antonio metropolitan area, because these are the kinds of places that have grown from relatively sleepy, small cities to extremely large, vibrant, crowded cities, where the cost of living is substantially higher.

  • ALLISON SANDZA:

     Dr. Lori Taylor runs the Mosbacher Institute at the George Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. She studies regional differences in education costs.

  • DR. LORI TAYLOR, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY:

     The more desirable teachers, the more talented teachers, are going to sort themselves out to the more desirable jobs and you can wind up filling those positions with individuals who don’t have the same kinds of credentials as you would be able to fill if you were paying a market wage.

  • ALLISON SANDZA:

     And while Austin’s real estate boom does mean more tax revenue for the city, that doesn’t necessarily mean more money for the district.

    By state law, commonly referred to as Robin Hood, Austin and other high property tax districts are required to send millions of dollars back to the state – which is then sent to communities with lower tax revenue.

    Hundreds of Texas districts sued the state over the complex school funding formula, part of which is based on data from 1989.

    A district judge in Austin ruled it unconstitutional in August. The Texas Supreme Court will hear the state’s appeal of that ruling later this year.

  • TEXAS STATE REP. JIMMIE DON AYCOCK:

     I call it a pie fight. Of course everyone that’s benefitting from the current formula wants to leave it like it is, everybody that’s not benefitting wants to change it, and you can flip it either way.

    The districts will say they don’t believe in our present distribution model, they say that it’s flawed; they’ve taken the state to court and said, the distribution model is not appropriate.

  • ALLISON SANDZA:

     As all involved wait to see what the court will decide, Austin’s teachers watch their city grow up around them and fear they’ll be priced out of the prosperity.

  • DR. LORI TAYLOR:

     If you make more money in Austin but you turn around and hand it over to your landlord you’re left with a very lean budget. Elsewhere in the state that same salary goes a lot further because the check you write to the landlord in a whole lot smaller.

  • JIM FULBRIGHT:

     Teachers are already used to living on a shoestring. I don’t own any clothing that I didn’t get from a thrift store and neither do my kids. We know how to do it on the cheap. We can’t do it on the nothing.

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