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Prop 2 Defeat Puts Brakes on New South Austin High School

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Some Austin school board members say the failure of bond Proposition 2 means the opening of a new high school in South Austin will most likely be delayed.

The proposition included $8 million for studies to design the new high school. Officials say now the district will have to wait until the next bond election.

The board had projected that a South Austin high school would open in 2019. But Board President Vincent Torres says that’s now up in the air.

“I can’t overemphasize the fact that the failure of that proposition -- that whole activity is going to slow down or quite possibly come to a screeching halt until the funds for that design phase are identified,” Torres said.

In 2008, voters approved a bond to acquire land for the new high school. The land has yet to be purchased. Board member Robert Schneider says that’s inexcusable.

“I’m very familiar with the process, and I will tell you land purchases did come up and the district did a terrible job,” Schneider said.

Schneider says the district hasn’t been open enough with the public during the high school planning process or properly identified overcrowded areas. So the design and feasibility studies probably shouldn’t be done right now anyway, he said.

“I personally think that’s a good thing considering that we don’t know where its going to be and what kind of school its going to be,” he said.

Theresa Bastian, a member of the South High School Planning Committee, says many people opposed Prop 2 because they were uninformed.

“I have heard so many people say specifically, ‘We already passed a bond for that high school,’” Bastian said. “I think there’s a perception that they’re asking for it again and they haven’t even used the money from the first one. I think that could have been better explained or marketed by the people who put the bond together.”

Bastian has five children in the Bowie High School vertical team. She says overcrowding makes it easy for kids to fall through the cracks.

“I think because Bowie ‘s vertical team has a reputation of strong parent involvement and activity from booster club, it makes the overcrowding feel manageable,” she said. “But it shouldn’t be the parents’ job to mitigate the overcrowding of the school.”

Meanwhile, the South High School Planning Committee -- made up of teachers, parents and district officials -- has focused on academic choices for the new campus.

“In order for you to know how much land to buy, how large of a facility to plan for, what needs you’re going to try to design the building for, you need to understand how you’re going to use that facility first,” Torres said.

But Bastian, who’s on the committee, says that for many parents, overcrowding is a more urgent matter.

“The overwhelming response from parents isn’t arguing the nuances of this curriculum versus that curriculum, which I think is a statement to the district in itself,” she said.

Mills Elementary parent Renee Welsh agrees. “It’s frustrating to hear them waver back and forth about what kind of high school it will be when really we just need a high school,” she said. “So they need to figure it out and just do it.”

At a media briefing this week, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the failure of Prop 2 means the district will have to look at other solutions to ease crowding.

“That means we’ll have to have a conversation about policies and practices, whether that’s transfers and boundaries or any other approaches we’ve used before, like portables, will come back on the table that we’ll have to use to address overcrowding,” Carstarphen said.

Beyond the money for a design study, school board members say it’ll cost $120 million to $150 million to build a new high school. The district expects to borrow that money with a bond as well.

Andrew Weber contributed to this report.

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