Splitting the Baby
AISD votes to buy two plots of land
AISD is moving slowly on the purchase of land for its next high school – but after seven years of inaction, slow motion is better than no motion.
During the board session on Dec. 14, outgoing President Gina Hinojosa gave an update on the latest development in the long-running process. (Hinojosa had announced earlier that day that she's resigning the presidency, but not her board seat, in order to run for state rep; see "'Tis the Filing Season," Dec. 18, for more on that.) In 2008, AISD voters approved a $32 million bond to buy land for a new high school in South Austin. Since then, the fight has been over exactly where the school should be. Since the most overcrowded high school in the district is Bowie, residents of District 7 wanted the new campus in southwest Travis County. However, with nearby Akins also over capacity, and school age population forecasts for Southeast Austin rising over the next few years, there was an argument to locate the school next door in District 6. So Hinojosa announced that, after years of inaction, the board will split the baby and buy two plots of land – one southeast, one southwest.
Last week, staff had presented a list of 16 potential sites to the board in executive session, and the board directed Superintendent Paul Cruz to begin negotiations with the owners of the selected pair. Trustees have been informed that, even accounting for inflation, the $32 million will be enough to cover the costs. But that's just the start of the payments: The district will need to go out to voters for a construction bond to pay for the buildings (high schools cost around $100 million), plus add an ongoing $9-15 million a year in operating costs, depending on what specialties and facilities the district wants to include.
The negotiations could take another six months: the bond, potentially years. Moreover, there are splits among trustees over whether this is the best solution to high school overcrowding. Even though one of the new sites will likely be in District 6 Trustee Paul Saldaña's political backyard, he'd prefer the district finally realign school attendance zones, and examine reforms to existing transfer policies. He argues that by moving the 500 transfer students out of Bowie alone, it will return to more manageable numbers, while their under-enrolled home campuses will get a suitable enrollment boost.