AISD Board to Consider $420 Million Bond Package

The Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee settles on a figure that offers relief while still being acceptable to voters

After a year of research and preparation and two initial weeks of public feedback, the Austin ISD's Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee is putting the final touches on recommendations for a $420 million bond package to fund capital improvements for the district. The CBAC, a 19-member volunteer group appointed by the district's board of trustees, will present its recommendations to the board on March 29, anticipating a public vote some time this fall. Pending the board's action, the committee is expected to recommend a $420 million total package – from a list of needs pared down from more than $600 million. "These are large numbers," said Co-Chair John Blazier. "But the needs to be addressed are absolute basics."

Draft recommendations call for renovations to nearly all of AISD's 107 campuses, construction of six new schools, plus funds for buses, athletic facilities, technology, and security systems. It will be AISD's first major bond initiative since 1996, when voters approved a $369 million package that funded 11 new schools and across-the-board renovations, expected to cover the district's needs only until 2000. In 2002, voters passed a $49 million package for mold and ventilation remediation projects.

The committee's work on the new initiative began in January 2003, when the CBAC started studying the district's needs up to the 2007-08 school year. They began by surveying principals, consulted with volunteer engineering and architecture professionals, and surveyed AISD maintenance staff to determine problem areas and needs. Not surprisingly, there were many.

Campuses across the district suffer severe overcrowding. Many of AISD's buses are in poor repair and pollute heavily; after school, many drive-through areas for picking up children turn into chaotic and dangerous traffic jams. Several violent incidents in recent months on AISD campuses indicated a need for greater security, which the district hopes can be addressed on a facilities level through better outdoor lighting, video surveillance, and card-access systems.

But at about $155 million, the single biggest piece of the pie is maintenance – much of it long-deferred. Blazier, one of the CBAC's three chairs, pointed out that many roofs haven't been replaced since the schools were built in the 1960s, even though the normal life span of a roof is rarely more than 25 years. "We're going on borrowed time," he said.

The original districtwide wish list topped out at more than $608 million. But when the committee polled voters, they found it would be hard to pass a bond package of more than about $400 million. That works out to a tax rate increase of 3 cents – or about $4 a month for a house appraised at $150,000.

The committee started cutting. Out went a new $32 million high school. There would be no new computers. Renovation recommendations were slashed 20%. Crowded schools would make do with fewer classroom additions.

And they prioritized. While campuses across the district complained of overcrowding, the committee decided not to consider an area as a candidate for a new school unless current facilities were already at 125% capacity. They finally settled on a $141 million new construction plan – to build six new schools and add on to 10 existing facilities.

The task was made even harder by the rapid pace of Austin's growth and the need to determine not only where classroom space is needed now, but where it will be needed four years from now. For example, the committee initially planned a new 32-classroom elementary school in Southeast Austin to relieve Palm Elementary – projected to be at 147% capacity by 2007-08 – and to draw some children from the nearly as crowded Langford Elementary. But when the recommendations were nearly finished, just-announced plans for a massive new housing development forced the committee to recommend a 40-classroom school instead.

Yet in early March, when the CBAC finally took its draft to the public after months of trimming, many parents urged them to fatten it back up. Parents at LBJ High organized to push for a new fine-arts facility, while parents in Southwest Austin urged a new middle school, all declaring that public support would be there to get it passed.

"If they're brave enough to offer a package that is the size that's needed, I know people in Southwest Austin will turn out to support it, and citywide too," said Ed Scruggs, a parent of a 1- and a 3-year-old.

Once the board of trustees hears the CBAC's recommendations, they will open a second period of public comment before deciding on a final package to put before voters in November. Because of the number of parents urging additional funds, Blazier suspects the final package will be larger than what the committee is recommending – but that resistance to tax increases makes him think it won't be by much.

"It's people 55 and older who show up and vote in these elections," he said. "And we just have to get this initiative passed."

Six Proposed New Schools

One Middle School
Northeast: To relieve overcrowding at Dobie. It will also draw some students from Pearce. Land has not been purchased.

Five Elementary Schools
Southeast: To relieve Palm and Langford elementaries. Land has been purchased northeast of the intersection of Slaughter Lane and I-35.
South: To relieve Menchaca Elementary. Land has not been purchased.
Southwest: To relieve Kiker and Baranoff. Land has been donated by Stratus Properties Inc. near Circle C Ranch, southwest of MoPac and Slaughter.
Northeast: To relieve Jordan and Norman elementaries. Land has been purchased near LBJ high school.
Undesignated: Several possibilities are being considered, based on emerging growth, including Southeast, the Oak Hill area, or the Bear Lake Public Utility District at the boundary with Hays Co., south of Circle C. If growth in the Northeast is stronger, another elementary might be built in the area of Norman and Jordan elementaries.

Projects for Consideration: A Summary

The 2004 bond package initially drafted by the CBAC includes the following expenses for capital improvements to AISD's 104 schools and other support facilities, the asset value of which totals about $1.2 billion. Following March public forums, the CBAC expects additional projects for board consideration, totaling about $5 million.

Category# FacilitiesAmount
New Schools6115,273,003
Land Acquisition13,000,000
Safety & SecurityAll19,000,000
Plus 10% contingency$414,314,126

* Includes elementary PE, media services, libraries, and legal and management costs

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education, AISD, citizens' bond advisory committee, CBAC, John Blazier, school bonds, Ed Scruggs

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