Voters approve Austin ISD’s $1 billion bond

Deepark Middle School students learn about Pakistan through virtual reality. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)
Deepark Middle School students learn about Pakistan through virtual reality. (KXAN Photo/Paul Shelton)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The largest bond proposal in Austin Independent School District’s history was approved by a large margin of votes.

The bond was passed with nearly 70 percent of votes cast. You can follow real-time results here.

“It’s a positive vote of confidence for the two years worth of work that we have put in so we’re very excited,” said Kendall Pace, AISD School Board President.

The $1,050,984,000 bond proposition was shaped by the district’s Facility Master Plan, which serves as a guideline for all AISD facilities over the next 25 years. The bond package was the culmination of almost two years of intensive work by an 18-member committee called the “FABPAC” — Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee — who studied the district’s facility needs.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Leticia Caballero, FABPAC President. “We are thrilled to death with the outcome.”

The bond touches almost every campus in AISD. The district’s bond page lists projects at each campus.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union has been the most outspoken against the bond. The group criticized the plan, claiming the district was painting a false picture of the poor condition of facilities, and highlighted the fact that Austin property taxes historically go up, therefore, the average homeowner will pay more even if the tax rate doesn’t change.

“This district is well funded. It gets over a billion dollars, or close to a billion dollars, every year to spend,” said Roger Falk, an analyst with the Taxpayers Union. “It’s just not managing that money well, and rewarding them with a big pot of cash just pushes, kicks that can down the road. Sooner or later we’re going to have to address it.”

Tuesday night, Trustee Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias joined a group of parents from his district at a restaurant in East Austin to watch the results come in.

“This is a win for our students, it’s a win for taxpayers, a win for our entire community,” said Mathias. “We are so extremely grateful to the voters of Austin.”

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis was there as well, and delivered a passionate speech as soon as early voting results revealed the bond passing by a large margin.

“Our community said yes to what we believe in, yes to schools, yes to improvement, yes to a better day for our kids — that’s powerful,” said Zarifis. “Now we have to hold [AISD] accountable to do what they say they are going to do.”

The district organized the plan into three types of bond projects:

  • District-wide projects — aimed to benefit all students. (Examples: buses, technology upgrades)
  • New and modernized schools, including:
    • New northeast Austin middle school
    • New Casis, Govalle, Menchaca, and T.A. Brown elementary schools
    • New southwest Austin elementary school
    • New Eastside Memorial ECHS at original L.C. Anderson campus
    • Modernizations at Ann Richards, Bowie, Eastside, LBJ, Murchison, Brentwood, Northwest and Blazier
  • Reinvention programs – for 21st century learning
    • Early College High Schools
    • Fine arts renovations
    • LBJ ECHS Medical High School

The passing of the bond won’t raise taxes for Austin ISD resident. The district says it will not borrow the total amount on day one, instead opting to borrow smaller amounts and pay off the debt as they go. The district also plans to sell land and facilities to help offset costs, as well as merging campuses to balance population shifts in the district.

The bond planning committee just met last week to talk about next steps. They will have to decide which projects need to be on the fast track.

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