AISD's Bond Proposal Possibly Ballot Bound

While district administration broadly supports Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee's recommendations, still some controversy

With less than two weeks left before they would have to make a final decision, the Austin Independent School District's board of trustees is considering taking a $297 million bond proposal to the ballot in May. But while the district administration broadly supports the recommendations of the Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee, there is still some controversy about the structure of the bond election.

After both CBAC and the board raised questions about the scheduling of the bond, staff gave the board several options at the trustees' Feb. 4 meeting, from a $157 million minibond in May with a $500 million comprehensive bond next year to a $700 million comprehensive bond in November 2009. District Super­in­ten­dent Pat Forgione supported the proposed interim bond in May, to be followed by a $500 million comprehensive bond in 2011.

Forgione's plan turns the CBAC wish list into three propositions. Proposition 1 would raise $171 million for relief for overcrowding and academic achievement. This includes $24 million for an early childhood center to relieve pressure on Linder Elementary, a goal of the CBAC, which it recommended but for which it did not have a price tag. Proposition 2 would raise $74 million for health and safety, environmental improvements, and critical renovations and upgrades.

But possibly the most significant evolution from the CBAC proposals is Proposition 3: $52 million for the performing arts. The CBAC had proposed $12 million for auditorium renovations for Lanier and McCallum high schools from critical repairs, but it had placed the funds under critical repairs. McCallum is home to the city's fine-arts academy, but it has the smallest high school theatre in the district. Forgione's proposal ties the fate of Proposition 3 to a proposed $40 million districtwide performing-arts center. At its public meeting on Feb. 11, the board heard from parents of McCallum students that, while they support a PAC, it should be considered on its own merits, and McCallum's theatre should be placed back under critical repairs. While the CBAC backed the idea of a PAC, which it had budgeted at $32 million, the committee did not include it in its recommendations because members felt they lacked enough information. Forgione said he understands the complaints and would not object to splitting the PAC and the renovations back up again.

The board does not have long to solve these issues. Its final public hearing on the bond will be on Feb. 18, and to get on the May 10 ballot, members will have to reach a final decision and approve an order calling an election by Feb. 25.

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Austin Independent School District, Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee, Pat Forgione, Election, AISD bonds

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