The Austin Chronicle

ACC Campus on Round Rock Ballot

By Patricia J. Ruland, May 9, 2008, News

After a whirlwind courtship, Austin Com­mun­ity College and Round Rock-area residents may finally tie the knot if voters on Saturday approve annexation of prime city and Williamson Co. property into the education district. With hat in hand, ACC President Stephen Kinslow came calling during a public hearing Jan. 31, offering a more chivalrous proposal than previously floated. Under the plan, ACC would buy the land as a good-faith gesture and break ground on a flagship campus almost immediately, if annexation passes.

The relationship between the two entities got off to a rocky start, when ACC initially pitched taxpayers a property-tax hike for the exalted privilege of being included in the district. A trial survey documented much resistance to citizens paying almost 10 cents per $100 valuation, so discussions were suspended, according to Raymond Hartfield, who co-chairs ACCtion 4 Education.

Playing hard to get may have paid off for Round Rock residents. Hartfield said ACC then promised to buy 62 acres at the corner of University Boulevard and County Road 112, on which it would build its biggest campus to date, housing more than 10,000 students. After all, ACC reasoned, the district already enrolls more than 5,000 students annually at ACC, so it wouldn't be difficult to fill the large campus in fast-growing Round Rock. More­over, the new campus would open its doors months before the first tax bill came due, according to Hartfield. The sweet talk worked. Community activists marshaled a petition drive garnering more than 8,000 signatures, twice the required number, by extolling such benefits as easy access to quality education for a fraction of the cost. Indeed, all Round Rock ACC students would start getting the 60% tuition reduction once the issue passes. And, the business community could better entice new ventures to the city with a labor-pool-in-training at hand, says Hartfield. He indicated that the medical industry is eager to have a full-fledged nursing school located near the city's three major hospitals, for example.

All is not bliss, however – some residents oppose tax increases that fund others' education. Let them get grants, said one recent letter to the editor in the Round Rock Leader. Sensitive to "social burdens" that saddle busy single parents, Hartfield counters that, for many, commuting to far-flung campuses is not an option. "Sit in your homes, and wallow in your family values, and tell me that's not a fact," the gentlemanly Hartfield said. He also noted that some opponents erroneously claim ACC could build a campus anyway and didn't really need the tax boost.

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