Citizens' Committee Shuffles AISD Bonds

A recap of the plans so far

Plans are firming up for Austin Independent School District's interim bond-election package to propose major investments in buildings and technology. On Jan. 10, the 2008 Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee added items to its list of projects for the public discussion that took place this week before making its final recommendations to the board of trustees on Jan. 28.

The committee had already preliminarily approved $172 million for projects deemed essential: new labs to meet increased math and science graduation minimums and kitchen renovations, as well as cost-cutting innovations, such as capacitor banks that could cut electricity bills by $2 million a year. However, with overcrowding becoming a major problem, the committee adopted proposals for a new $25 million elementary school. This is in addition to two undesignated schools already funded under the 2004 bond issue. Four schools – Linder, Barrington, Hart, and Langford – received preliminary approval for eight new classrooms each. The construction would move students from temporary structures, but without adding to core buildings. "What does it really solve," asked Tri-Chair Mark Curry, "beyond making [the classrooms] look prettier?"

Two days earlier, the committee lent its support to more than $69 million for technology investments, influenced by a combination of new online testing requirements, the need for equipment replacement, and the announcement from Pearson School Systems that it will stop supporting the current records software. "We can give you a jump-start on technology," Tri-Chair Amy Wong Mok told staff, "but we need a strategic vision, so we don't have to jump-start every five years." Members were also concerned the funding could not include cash for information-technology support staff. "You wouldn't buy buses and not hire bus drivers," said member Rudy Montoya.

Not every proposal passed. Proposals for a Mueller Airport Elementary, a second undesignated elementary, and a middle school were put on hold, as was $4.9 million for library books. The committee is wavering on the proposed $30 million performing-arts center. With earlier plans to add it to the Long Center seemingly dead, the Rathgeber Family Part­ner­ship had discussed offering land at Mueller: If that offer would expire before the next proposed full bond date, the committee may still decide to recommend it.

Repayment of the bonds, as well as the potential impact on appraisal taxes, also raised concerns. AISD has only 13 cents left for maintenance and operation costs out of the Legislature's cap of $1.17 per $100 of valuation. But a rate increase may be unavoidable: Resale values are static, although with Texas leading the nation in construction starts, new homes could offset that. AISD staff reported that reaching the cap could be avoided by doing two or three staggered sales of $50 million-$100 million each, with larger sums put off until smaller, more immediate projects are completed and partially paid off.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

School bonds, Austin ISD, Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee, Election, AISD bonds

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