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AISD to Talk Bond Proposal Tonight at Community Meeting

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

The Austin Independent School District is hosting a community meeting tonight on its 2014 budget and its $892 million bond proposal that's up for a vote next month. 

AISD wants to issue bonds to fund capital projectsthroughout the district. The money wouldn’t be used for day-to-day expenses, but for things like technology upgrades, more classrooms and increased security.

“A lot of that is stuff we’ve been band-aiding for a long time and we just need to fix it," said Jeff Kaufmann with AISD.

If all four bonds are approved, the average household will gradually see a property tax increase of $70 annually. The average business would see an increase of $178 per year.

“This is our window. I believe after the taxpayers get asked money for ACC and a new courthouse, maybe, and low income housing, taxpayers are going to say enough. So this is our moment," John Blazier, a member of the Citizens Bond Committee, said at a Mills Elementary PTA meeting Tuesday night.

Compared to the other district schools, Mills isn’t slated to receive a lot of money—just a little over $2 million dollars. The district plans to upgrade technology and basic infrastructure at the school. Mills parent Renee Welsh says those improvements are important. But she says the money should be distributed equally between elementary, middle and high schools.

"It’s frustrating the high schools are getting so much money. And I’m not saying they don’t need to upgrade their facilities. But if you go back and look at our track, it’s falling apart. So our kids need this stuff, too," Welsh said.

The district's major plan at Mills is to build two more multi-purpose rooms for art and music.

“I don’t know if you’ve walked in our art room, but it’s not very big," Kelly Stacy, a fifth grade parent said.

She said the art room used to be in one of the six portable classrooms outside until it was moved inside.

However, for many parents at Tuesday's PTA meeting, the most important issue was a guarantee the bond money would be distributed equally throughout the district.

“I would like to know that they’re not just sort of giving goodies to all of the people on this side of town so that we’ll vote for the bond, but that they’re really taking care of everybody in Austin," said Mills parent Cindy Schaulfenbuel.

"There are a lot of people on this side of town who can choose to go to public school or private school. I like my daughter to go to public school. I would like her to go to a good public school district that isn’t just a good school, but a good district," she said.

One major issue AISD is hoping to address district-wide is overcrowding. Mills isn’t a stranger to large enrollment. Right now the school’s enrollment is at 103% of capacity. Before the district opened Baldwin Elementary School in 2009, enrollment at Mills was 132% of capacity. Still, many parents were more worried about overcrowding at Bowie, the neighborhood high school.

“I went to visit one day for a school event and it was enormous. It was overwhelming I’ve never been to a high school that large. And it’s overcrowded. Even as big as it is, it has too many students," said Welsh.

She says she’s concerned the school district hasn’t made as much progress toward building a new high school in the southern part of town. Schaulfenbuel says she’s heard similar complaints.

“I know a lot of people, personally, who participated in a 2008 bond who are concerned that things haven’t moved as fast as they would like...and we don’t even have plans for a new high school yet," she said.

The current bond proposal has set aside $8 million to design a new high school in South Austin. That does not include construction costs.

Wednesday's meeting will be at Bowie High School starting at 6 pm. The school district is holding two more community meetings about the bonds next week. The plan goes to voters on May 11.

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