A Whopping Bond and a New Eastside Plan ... at High Speed

AISD board just misses a billion dollar bond, races to fix Eastside High

Education Commissioner Michael Williams
Education Commissioner Michael Williams (Photo by John Anderson)

Sell a bond election and save a school.

In two votes on Monday, Feb. 25, the Austin Independent School District board of trustees set themselves two huge goals to achieve before the summer break. They approved four bond proposals – totaling $892 million – to be placed on the ballot for May 11 and approved a timeline to present a new plan for Eastside Memorial High School to Commissioner of Education Michael Williams before the end of the current school year.

Before the weekend, the draft bond stood at $883 million, but the board met on Saturday to finesse the proposal and add a few more items, such as upping the size of the new theatre at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders and adding a new dance floor at McCallum High. However, they had still not reached unanimity by Monday, especially over the $20 million to convert the Eastside's Ridgeview campus (formerly the old Anderson High campus, currently the Alternative Learning Center) to host the planned school for young men. Separate requests from trustees Ann Teich and Robert Schneider to place that initiative in its own bond proposal failed. Schneider was undeterred and said he had "numerous concerns" about how Ridgeview – which the administration had previously called unusable – had suddenly become an ideal site.

With that issue arguably settled, the board started a discussion about the Eastside timeline that stretched well past midnight. A little background: After the board kicked IDEA Public Schools out of the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team, Commissioner Williams said they were violating their state-implemented reconstitution plan and ordered them to find a new external partner agency. At Monday's meeting, the board approved a timeline and a process for finding a new partner that will work for and with them on the campus. If they cannot do so, Williams has the option of closing the campus or handing it over to a charter operation.

Both projects face major hurdles. Regarding Eastside, the board is hoping they can blindly work out exactly what Williams wants, since he has given little concrete indication of what he requires from the district. His June 5 deadline means the district must have the request for proposal available for potential partners by March 7, have a top contender selected before May, and presumably have a firm agreement and plan in place by the end of that month. However, many details, such as who will sit on the applicant vetting committee, still have to be hammered out. As for the bond, the board has less than three months to convince Austin voters to back nearly a billion dollars for construction. Before the meeting, board President Vince Torres conceded, "If the meeting finishes at midnight, then the sales job starts at 12:01."

The Bond Proposals

Prop. 1 $140,566,000 (Health, Environment, Equipment, and Technology)

Prop. 2 $233,950,000 (Safety, Security, and Relief From Overcrowding)

Prop. 3 $349,165,000 (Academic and Building Infrastructure Renovations and Repairs)

Prop. 4 $168,564,000 (Academic Initiatives, Fine Arts, and Athletics)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin ISD, school bonds, Eastside Memorial High School, Michael Williams, Ann Richards School, McCallum High, Ann Teich, Robert Schneider, IDEA Public Schools, Vince Torres

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