Austin ISD administration outlines its vision for potential 2022 bond package
The Austin ISD board of trustees is voting this week on what to include in the 2022 bond. The package the board OKs will be on the ballot in November, and voters will decide whether to approve some or all of the proposals.
On Monday, Austin ISD’s administration released its recommendations for what should be included in the bond package. The district’s vision is largely aligned with proposals the bond steering committee has spent months developing. But there are some differences, and AISD has suggested moving around tens of millions of dollars.
The steering committee is made up of 17 members: Nine members are appointed by trustees, seven are from the long-range planning committee, and one is a student. The group put together two draft proposals using a methodology that prioritizes historically underserved students and communities.
One of the proposals totals $1.75 billion and does not require a tax rate increase. The other totals $2.25 billion and would require a 1 cent hike to Austin ISD’s debt service tax rate. The district’s overall tax rate is slated to decrease, however.
Bond dollars are crucial for school districts because they can be used for a host of capital projects that would be hard or nearly impossible to pay for through an annual budget. Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Anthony Mays said these funds are especially important to maintain aging campuses.
“As our buildings age and start to kind of fall apart, we have to be able to replace pipes, replace HVAC," he said, "and this allows us to do that."
Mays said the district is backing the larger of the two packages because it has more support among community and board members.
“The larger bond allows us to be able to address more needs throughout our district without having to select who gets this and who doesn’t get that,” he said. “I think given all of the issues that we have to address within our district, the larger bond goes further in meeting the needs for our community.”
According to the district, 81% of campus projects will benefit Title 1 students under the administration’s recommendation, while 19% would go toward non-Title 1 campuses.
There are many similarities between what the steering committee recommended for the $2.25 billion draft bond and what the administration is recommending. Both allocate millions to make critical infrastructure improvements at nearly all campuses, $25 million to buy new school buses, $5 million to purchase musical instruments, and more than $15 million for special education inclusion improvements and classroom cameras. There is also funding for security upgrades and installing security vestibules at all campuses.
The document above shows recommendations for the 2022 bond package. The blue column is what the bond steering committee suggested for the $1.75 billion package. The black column is what the bond steering committee suggested for the $2.25 billion package. The green is column is what Austin ISD is recommending.
The bond steering committee and the administration are also asking the school board to invest in improving athletic facilities, such as putting $4.7 million toward the Burger Athletic Complex and $25 million for Nelson Field, which serves as the home stadium for LBJ Early College High School, Anderson High School, Eastside Memorial High School and Reagan Early College High School.
Jason Stanford, Austin ISD’s chief officer of communications and community engagement, said the investment in athletic fields will be transformative.
“The fact that every high school is going to get a competition-level field is going to transform neighborhoods all over this city,” he said. “And in 20 years, that’s what everyone is going to remember about this bond.”
The steering committee and the administration recommend full or partial modernizations for nearly all of the same campuses, including Allison Elementary, Andrews Elementary, Barrington Elementary, Burnet Middle School, Dobie Middle School, Harris Elementary, Hill Elementary, Houston Elementary, Langford Elementary, Linder Elementary, Martin Middle School, Travis Early College High School, Wooldridge Elementary, and Wooten Elementary.
But the district has suggested some changes. For example, the administration wants to put more than $45 million toward a “phase 1 modernization” for Anderson High School. That’s $20 million more than what the bond steering committee recommended. Another school the administration is proposing for this type of modernization is O. Henry Middle School. The steering committee had recommended nearly $7 million for critical infrastructure needs, but the AISD administration is proposing spending $60 million on a phase 1 modernization. The district is also recommending spending more than $65 million on this type of modernization for Crockett Early College High School.
The Austin ISD administration is, like the bond steering committee, recommending full modernizations for Oak Springs Elementary and Pecan Springs Elementary. But, instead of constructing campuses for 522 students, it wants to build for a maximum capacity of 375 students which cuts the cost of both projects by nearly $9 million.
Another departure the administration makes from the steering committee is funding an addition for Bear Creek Elementary. The committee had decided to remove funding for the project because it did not fit with the equity process. But Mays said the district needs to be responsive to growing enrollment.
“That building was actually developed and prepared for the additional space in anticipation of a growing population. And, so part of my responsibility is to be responsive to the demand of our community,” he said.
Mays added the goal is also to stave off declining enrollment.
“Where we have population growth, we want to be able to accommodate versus losing those students to competing districts, or neighboring districts, or charters,” he said.
The administration also seeks to invest more money in career technical education, or CTE, by putting $13 million toward the Clifton Career Development School.
“The community expressed an interest in trying to make sure that we provided more support for CTE,” Mays said.
He said another area where the administration heard the community was in regard to teacher housing. Initially, the district wanted to spend $50 million to ensure educators had affordable places to live. But, teachers and community members were ambivalent about putting the proposal on the ballot because few details had been worked out. Ultimately, the administration is not recommending any funding for teacher housing.
“We have some alternative measures we’re going to take to try to address the issues of affordability and housing for our workforce,” he said. “But right now as it relates to the bond — again we have a significant amount of need throughout our district — and so, trying to be a good fiscal steward we made the adjustment there.”
While the school board will consider recommendations from both the bond steering committee and the administration, trustees will have the final say on what is included in the package. Trustees are holding a work session Tuesday night before a scheduled vote on Thursday. The last time voters approved an Austin ISD bond was in 2017. It was just over $1 billion, the largest in district history.