At times, Carstarphen’s hard-driving tendencies have put her at odds with some on the Austin school board.
The majority of trustees opposed her recommendation that the district declare financial exigency, a state of fiscal emergency that would have allowed the district greater leeway in terminating employees, including those with current contracts. Instead, the board approved cutting positions as the district eliminates programs or departments.
Carstarphen’s goal was to balance the 2010-11 budget and free up money for academic programs by making deeper cuts.
In the 5-3 vote for program change instead of financial exigency, Trustee Cheryl Bradley abstained. Bradley warned at the time: “We need to be careful of the directive we’re sending. We can either trust her or micromanage.”
Others said that Carstarphen brought up the decision for financial exigency too abruptly, that it was unnecessary and that it could give the district a reputation that it can’t manage money.
“We know we have to reduce staff to reduce the budget … but we needed to be made aware of that much earlier,” said Trustee Vince Torres, who voted for the program change. “Now the superintendent understands how much more time the board would need for that.”
The board made clear that Carstarphen must reduce the original $64 million she said was necessary to jump-start new programs. Trustees approved dipping into reserves to cover more than $6 million for goals such as adding counselors at high-need schools.
Carstarphen said that while the board didn’t approve financial exigency, it made a way for her to get funding for the most important programs.
“If I can’t do it this way, they’re not blocking other ideas,” she said. “There’s a lot of different paths to the same end.”
Malfaro, who opposed the declaration of exigency, said Education Austin supported budget cuts and eliminating positions but was against laying off any employees.
“We burned up a lot of good will and political capital having a fight that we didn’t really need to have,” Malfaro said. “It was a throwdown where there was some disagreement. And the test will be to move forward from it.”