Board of trustees to discuss possible projects for potential bond package
There’s no question that millions of dollars would be needed to improve local and districtwide educational programs as well as facilities in Austin ISD, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said at her State of the District address in November. The question is how the district can get those funds.
“Our only option to address serious facility needs is to rely on bond funding, which in 2008 funded new schools like Gorzycki [middle school], Baldwin [elementary school] and our new North Central elementary school, in rapidly growing parts of town to address overcrowding,” she said, noting Texas does not fund school facilities for districts like Austin.
In January, a board-approved Citizens Bond Advisory Committee is expected to present its preliminary scope of work for projects to be included in a potential bond. The cost of making changes to facilities such as plumbing and electrical upgrades is estimated to be $350 million, according to Carstarphen. The board’s recommendations to address overcrowding by building new schools, expanding academic and fine arts programs and facilities, and improving athletic facilities would bring the cost of a potential bond to more than $850 million, according to Carstarphen.
The board of trustees has not yet approved a bond election, but it did approve the timeline for its 2013 bond package, enabling such an election to take place as soon as May. It has been four years since the last district bond passed. If voters approved a new bond, the average taxpayer with a $200,000 home would pay about $69 per year or $5.75 per month, Carstarphen said.
How a bond package forms
In May, the AISD board of trustees directed the administration to establish a committee to develop recommendations on a scope of work for a proposed new bond program for the district.
The CBAC is a group of parents, teachers and community leaders working together to develop a recommendation for the superintendent. This fall, the CBAC received campus plans from every school in the district, according to CBAC co-chairman Albert Hawkins. The committee conducted an in-depth review of facility infrastructure needs to determine what to include in the scope of AISD’s bond proposal, including a few of the annual academic and facilities recommendations (AAFRs) suggested by the board.
The CBAC developed a timeline for how bond plans will be developed and shared. In October, the board approved the timeline and discussed which might come first—a bond election or a tax ratification election (TRE). Carstarphen said the CBAC and different stakeholder groups agreed that the bond should come before a potential TRE, but the board has also indicated it is likely to ask voters to consider a TRE in 2013. Both could take place in 2013.
The CBAC recommended Feb. 25 as the date to order a bond election, March 1 as the last day to order a special election and May 11 to hold a bond election.
A bond election would have a major impact, according to AISD Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Fryer.
“That’s going to be districtwide,” Fryer said. “It will have specific projects and a recommended scope that will be directly focused … down to the school level.”
Board suggests more improvements
The CBAC is putting the finishing touches on its scope of work, but some of the superintendent’s AAFRs could end up as part of a bond package, according to Fryer.
Each year, preliminary AAFRs are supplemented by research, discussion and vetting with the community, Fryer said.
Estimated budgets and funding sources for the projects were detailed in fact sheets and posted on AISD’s website for the community to access, Executive Director of Facilities Paul Turner said. Some recommendations would require funding from a new revenue stream, donors, grants, a TRE or a new AISD bond, while others would not change the district’s budgetary needs.
AAFRs range from offering new fine arts programming districtwide to repainting hallways and installing new equipment at individual campuses. The board referred a few of the AAFRs to the CBAC to consider for possible inclusion in the scope of work for the potential bond.
This year, the board has recommended that the bond committee consider including these AAFRs in its scope of work:
- Renovations at Rosedale School and Clifton Career Development School
- Fine arts program facility additions and renovations
- Parity and equity in career and technical education, including further consideration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives linked to a proposed University of Texas medical school in Austin
- Improvements to secondary athletic programs and facilities
Two public hearings in January will provide more information, Turner said. One meeting is scheduled for Jan. 22 at the Crockett High School cafeteria at 6:30 p.m., and the second is set for Jan. 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the Reagan High School cafeteria. The board would need to finalize a potential bond package by February.
Not all AAFRs will be in the bond. Some could only be implemented if AISD finds new revenue, while others are cost-neutral on the district’s maintenance and operations budget, Fryer said.
The board planned to vote Dec. 17 on AAFRs deemed likely to move forward, including dual-language program expansion and extension in AISD; continuing Responsive Education Solutions at Lanier and Travis high schools; introducing a campus-initiated in-district charter at Travis Heights Elementary School, and launching a districtwide fine arts program. Since January 2012 there have been more than 20 AAFR community meetings and public hearings, AISD public relations coordinator Yesenia Garcia said.
Update: The AISD board of trustees plans to discuss the school for young men in January 2013.