Believing that to make a statement one way or the other on a proposed baseball stadium in East Austin would imply some sort of agreement between them and the Phoenix Firebirds/City of Austin, the AISD Board of Trustees declined on Monday to endorse the October 7 bond issue to help finance the facility.
Then again, the board wasn't posted for action on this item, and wasn't being asked for an endorsement, anyway. Well, wait a minute. What was the board supposed to do? It was all a bit vague.
For example: former Dallas assistant city manager A.C. Gonzalez, AISD's newly hired deputy superintendent for administrative support services, told the board that the stadium represents "the potential of an opportunity to possibly use the facility on a joint-use arrangement, whereby the facility might be configured to accommodate football games." And maybe soccer. Maybe some baseball games, too. Maybe if some kind of interlocal agreement were worked out, AISD could drop plans for using its own bond funds for a district-owned stadium.
"What are we being asked?" said trustee Geoff Rips. Gonzalez explained that the point of the agenda item was to "encourage a discussion" and for the board to offer direction on whether AISD should pursue... something.
Firebirds representative Craig Pletenik was more definite about what the point of the agenda item was - he has been offering the possibility of joint-use with the school district as a kind of selling point to the voters, and just wanted the board to be aware that the offer was open.
One observer muttered that it was annoying for AISD Superintendent Jim Fox to dispatch his staff on this. With the notable exception of vice president Jerry Carlson, the board seemed to agree. Trustee Diana Casteñeda opined that it was premature to discuss making an agreement, since bonds for the stadium have not been approved by the voters yet.
Trustee Melissa Knippa struck an unusually harmonious chord with Casteñeda, adding that AISD intends to pursue interlocal agreements when it's to the district's advantage to do so, but that there was nothing to negotiate yet. "I would like our staff focused on our bond issue," said Knippa, "and our classroom needs."
Board action included setting the tax rate for 1995-96, at $1.28 per $100 property valuation. AISD officials tout it as the lowest tax rate in five years, and the lowest tax rate among school districts in Central Texas. Taxes on the average home, valued at $102,018, (including the $5,000 for the school district's homestead exemption), will only go up by about $5 to $1,309.09 per year.
Speaking of taxes: at a September 6 work session on the upcoming AISD bond issue, some board members disavowed the notion that they want to get voters in a good mood for the 1996 bond issue, which may top out at over a third of a billion dollars, so they adopted a budget for 1995-96 requiring no significant tax hike. Both Carlson and trustee Tom Agnor declared that they were not operating under that assumption when they voted for this year's budget, nor will they look at next year's budget with hopes of getting the bond package approved.
The board also discussed possible bond election dates. One thing's for sure - the election won't be in December. Knippa was the only member strongly in favor of the earliest poll possible; she backed off that position when she realized, she said, that the board still has too many things to decide before they offer a package to the voters. Trustees narrowed the possibilities for the election to sometime between the end of February and the end of April 1996. They expect to discuss it further at their work session on September 20.
The board also canceled a September 13 public hearing (a misprint in last week's Chronicle said the hearing was September 6 - our apologies). They will reschedule it when there's something substantive on which to have a hearing. At this point, the bond is still very much in its nascent stages.