Public Notice: School Boards and Rail Lines
Searching for a super, roughing out the rail routes
By Nick Barbaro, Fri., March 17, 2023
The Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees will be selecting a new superintendent by the end of May, in a selection process run by GR Recruiting. After stakeholder interviews and an online public survey, GRR will meet with the AISD Board this coming week to develop the profile for what they're looking for in a new super at a work session on Wednesday, March 22, and a public hearing at 5:30pm on Thursday, March 23. Then they'll post some ads, and start accepting applications by March 25. See more on the process at austinisd.org/board/superintendent-search.
Why should you care? Well, while AISD has been spared the culture war virus that's been sweeping the nation's school boards (for that, see our neighbors to the north in Round Rock ISD), the district has been beset by a host of other problems – falling enrollment, teacher retention, changing demographics, "failing" schools – much of which tracks back to a district administration that no one has much faith in. So there's some hope that a strong new leader could light a fire under central admin that would give campuses a feeling that they're being heard and supported, rather than simply tested and judged. On the other hand, facing a national trend toward standardized testing and a state government that is genuinely not supportive of public education, that's a tall hill to climb.
But still, why should you care? Okay, how about this? A large chunk of your famously expensive housing bill is going directly to AISD. If you're a homeowner in the district, they get over half of your property tax payment. If you're a renter, the calculation isn't as transparent, but make no mistake, you're paying property taxes – they represent 20% or more of your total rent, according to experts. And again, over half of that is going directly to AISD.
But now that I've got you wound up about property taxes, I will say, there's not much AISD can do about it. Of all the money the district receives in taxes, it turns around and sends well over half of it – $761 million in AISD taxpayer money – directly back to the state in "recapture" payments to plug a hole in state funding and allow the Legislature to fulfill its constitutional mandate to fund public education in the state. AISD's remittance is extraordinary: higher than the next four districts in the state added together, due to a formula based on our sky-high property values combined with falling school enrollment. And everyone knows that isn't fair or logical for a district that's 70% minority and 52% economically disadvantaged, but given the Legislature's distaste for Austin and its woke values, no one's in a hurry to fix it. Meanwhile, the recapture money is redirected to property-poor school districts, but also increasingly to fund charter schools – including the ones competing to lure the most desirable and easiest-to-teach students away from AISD. Gotta love the Texas state government.
So I hope I haven't put you off your earlier excitement over the superintendent search. Don't forget that public hearing at the board meeting next Thursday; it's on AISD TV and online. See austinisd.org/board/meetings for more info, including how to comment at the meeting.
But Before That, There's Light Rail!
There's been concern about the state of Austin's transit plan, Project Connect, ever since people started making the first estimates of what post-pandemic cost increases – on top of some expensive design changes – were going to amount to, compared to the amount of money available. Can we really afford 4 miles of subway and three new crossings at Lady Bird Lake, as many problems as that would solve? Is one of the two new rail lines, or several of the stations, really on the chopping block as rumored? And the bus lines? Find out next Tuesday, March 21, as Austin Transit Partnership hosts an open house "to kick off the next round of community engagement as we move forward with Austin's light rail. Learn about updates ... and share your feedback." It's 4-7pm at Austin Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez. All are welcome, but you can preregister at publicinput.com/march21openhouseregistration. And see more info at (where else?) projectconnect.com.
Chasing Coral is an award-winning documentary exploring the causes of the recent catastrophic loss of coral reefs. Juli Berwald is an oceanographer and science writer and editor, whose most recent book is Life on the Rocks: Building a Future for Coral Reefs. The Save Barton Creek Association is sponsoring a benefit combining the two this coming Wednesday, March 22, 6-9pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller, 1911 Aldrich. Proceeds go to outstanding medical expenses for the late environmental advocate Jack Goodman, and to three other charities. Advance tickets are available only at golftennislessonsatx.com, not through the Alamo.
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