Austin ISD is pushing to put a major bond package before the voters in a May election – but with only a month to lock down the proposals to get them on to the ballot, the winnowing process could be brutal.
In an hour-and-a-half meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 22, at Crockett High School, parents and students gave feedback on the $890 million needs list constructed over the last year by the district's Citizens Bond Advisory Committee. What unified many requests was not how they could improve the education of students, but how much deferred maintenance is crippling daily operations. AISD had originally planned a full bond package for 2010. However, with pressing needs for IT, infrastructure, and overcrowding relief, in 2008 the district asked for and received voter approval for a $343 million interim package. That was supposed to buy two years of breathing room, pushing the full bond back from 2010 to 2012. However, at three years and counting, the district faces unprecedented stresses, balancing the rival needs of renovations, expansion, and equity.
Testimony at the meeting painted a bleak view of the condition of AISD facilities. Parents pleaded for individual line items – athletics repairs at Anderson High, extra storage and practice rooms for music at Murchison Middle School – as well as classroom additions. Inevitably, there was the perennial complaint that AISD is overdependent on portable classrooms. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen tried to paint a rosy picture, noting that portables are regularly rehabbed. However, staff warned, even if the district wanted to replace them all with permanent structures, they may be blocked on some center city campuses like Zilker Elementary because of city regulations on impervious cover.
Aside from hearing public input, this was also the board's first opportunity to publicly examine the proposals. District 5 Trustee Amber Elenz was concerned about how staff and the CBAC were categorizing and prioritizing needs, while her District 7 colleague Robert Schneider wanted to see the matrix of how Campus Advisory Committee requests had translated to CBAC proposals. In previous bonds, board members have heavily reshaped the CBAC draft before final approval, and speakers gave them plenty of suggestions. Govalle Elementary begged for new athletics facilities, while multiple speakers warned of the condition of the district's dance facilities. While those repairs were not in the draft package, the pleas gained some traction with board members. District 6 Trustee Lori Moya warned, "Some of our schools are old enough that they're not going to meet ed specs without building new additions."
There will be a second public hearing on the bond at 6:30pm, Tuesday, Jan. 29, in the Reagan High School cafeteria, 7104 Berkman.
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