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The 'Chronicle' Endorsements

May 11 AISD Bond Election

Fri., April 26, 2013

Austin Independent School District School Bonds: YES

At $892 million, it's undoubtedly a lot of money. At the same time, it's been a long time since the district asked for bond support. The last package, $343 million, approved by voters in 2008, was intended to tide schools over until 2012, so this election has in fact been a long time coming. The administration points out that, at current interest rates, the bonds represent a better deal than the last two bonds combined, and with less effect on the property tax – especially if the district issues the bonds on a responsible timeline. Nevertheless, taxpayers are right to be wary of a sizable bond package under a district administration that in recent years has damaged the trust necessary between schools and citizens.

We believe the substance of the bonds should be distinguished from the district's presentation. Many voters feel that they are being unduly pressured into approving almost a billion dollar give, and that the district presumes that Austinites will automatically approve anything "for the children." Even board members are unhappy with the undue speed of the process; however, they and the administration have had five years to prepare voters for this election. The ham-fisted presentation of these essential investments could well endanger the planned November tax rollback election, and plays into the traditional bond opposition of anti-public education groups – which expressly prefer to privatize education – at the local and state level.

Such bond-bashing groups as Amer­icans for Prosperity and the local Travis County Taxpayers Union have the ear of a state government that has refused to create an adequate statewide funding system, relying instead on a devil's bargain of "property-rich districts" (including Austin's, despite a majority of low-income students) underwriting the state's obligation to those districts without the capacity to raise sufficient funding.

Voters should also be aware that just because a project is listed on the bonds, that does not ensure it will happen. Nor does our endorsement of the bonds indicate our approval of all of the initiatives included in it. Some line items are undercooked, and many will require further board action. For example, there is money for a high school feeder for the new medical school, but no deal with the county to develop such a partnership. And issues such as the solar farm and the School for Young Men will certainly come back to the board for much more consideration before the money is actually spent.

Setting aside our concerns about how the district has handled this election, we believe our local schools remain in serious need of public support, and that this set of bond propositions is aimed at ongoing, substantive needs to improve, maintain, and complement our public schools. The future of our community depends upon an educated workforce and upon educated citizens. Approving these bonds is not only a financial decision, but an expression of faith in Austin's children and their future. Accord­ingly, we urge our readers to vote for all four bond propositions. Early voting runs from Monday, April 29, through May 7. Election day is May 11. For more information, see "Meet the AISD Bonds," April 12.

The Bond Proposals

Prop. 1: $140,566,000 (Health, Environment, Equipment, and Technology)

Prop. 2: $233,950,000 (Safety & Security, Overcrowding Relief, New Schools, and New Construction)

Prop. 3: $349,165,000 (Academic & Building Infrastructure)

Prop. 4: $168,564,000 (Academic Initiatives, Fine Arts, and Athletics)

Total: $892,245,000

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, facility, and equipment

$9,325,000 Classroom/science lab fixtures and equipment

$6,391,000 Food services 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, Burnet Middle Schools; Cook, Doss, Perez, Blazier, Pillow Elementaries)

$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 gymnasium at Anderson High

$8,000,000 New south HS 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 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 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

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