AISD Bonds: Half Pass, Half Fail
Austin ISD is reeling tonight, as two of its four bond proposals were defeated at the ballot box. Voters backed two measures, totaling $490 million for urgent renovations and technology upgrades, but rejected two more. Now the district will be reading the tea leaves on the narrowness of the vote, as all four measures circled around 50% support.
By close of voting, 38,946 residents of the district – 10.25% of all registered voters – cast a ballot. In the final results, Prop. 1 (Health, Environment, Equipment and Technology) passed by a razor-thin 50.62%, while Prop. 3 (Academic and Building Infrastructure Renovations) had the healthier margin, passing by 51.13%. However, Prop. 2 (Safety and Security and Relief from Overcrowding) failed by roughly half a percent, falling 49.74% to 50.26%. Prop. 4 (Academic Initiatives, Fine Arts and Athletics) took the worst beating of the night, going down with only 48.9% support.
For context, the last time the district lost a bond election was in 1989. Voters approved all three measure, totaling $343 million, by between 70% and 73%, with a total of 32,380 votes cast.
The simple boil-down is that AISD has secured voter approval to repair its existing crumbling infrastructure, but plans to add new campuses and relieve overcrowding have been, for now, scuppered.
The situation had been far bleaker at the beginning of the night, with all four measure failing on early voting by between 3% and 7%. However, a swell in election day voting saw turnout increase over early voting participation (5.17% to 5.09%.)
In a statement, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen thanked voters and said, "While voters did not approve all of the propositions, they did agree that all of our schools need to be maintained and well-equipped to support the quality of education in our city. Propositions 1 and 3 will positively affect the quality of education for Austin students for many years to come."
But now comes the challenging part, as district advocates try to plan around the funding gaps, and work out what went wrong. Board members including Robert Schneider warned their fellow trustees back in February that placing funding for the new boys school in Prop. 4 could be a poison pill. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has pointed the finger at low turnout. In a statement, senior vice-president Drew Scheberle wrote, "Those who thought someone else would solve this problem were mistaken. Every vote matters."
As always in Austin elections, voter turnout was frustratingly low. However, the idea that voter apathy was the sole culprit for derailing $400 million in planned spending does not stand up to scrutiny. Aside from perennial Republican and Tea Party opponents, there were enough traditional allies of the district who voted no that the board is probably pressing the panic button around now. The biggest question of all: How much was this, like November's election, another referendum on Carstarphen's administration?
Here's what passed and failed.
Proposition 1: $140,566,000 Health, Environment, Equipment, and Technology
$81,000,000 Technology districtwide
$20,000,000 Energy conservation districtwide
$14,310,000 Transportation districtwide
$9,540,000 Maintenance, facilities, and equipment
$9,325,000 Classroom/science lab fixtures and equipment
$6,391,000 Food services campus improvements
Proposition 3: $349,165,000 Academic and Building Infrastructure
$311,222,000 Facility systemic repairs
$25,461,000 Individual campus plans
$12,482,000 Libraries campus improvements
Proposition 2: $233,950,000 Safety and Security, Overcrowding Relief, New Schools and New Construction
$92,100,000 Three new elementary schools based on population growth
$47,450,000 Additions based on demographics (Murchison and Burnet middle schools; Cook, Doss, Perez, Blazier, and Pillow elementary schools)
$23,470,000 Safety and security districtwide
$15,400,000 Individual campus plan addition requests
$12,780,000 Functional equity additions
$12,150,000 Land acquisition
$11,000,000 Replacement/expansion of Anderson High gym
$8,000,000 New south high school feasibility and design
$7,600,000 Fine arts addition at Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders
$2,500,000 Multipurpose gym addition at Govalle Elementary
$1,500,000 Fine arts addition and renovations at Lamar MS
Proposition 4: $168,564,000 Academic Initiatives, Fine Arts, Athletics
$76,310,000 Physical education and athletics
$36,000,000 Career & technical education new programs
$25,697,000 Fine arts
$20,000,000 School for Young Men at Ridgeview campus (old Anderson High)
$10,557,000 Special education