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AISD board decides deadline for land purchase

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

The Austin Independent School District board of trustees directed district staff Monday to — after many years of discussion — create a timeline ending in January 2016  for the district to spend bond money to buy land for a proposed new South Austin high school building.

Board members opened Monday’s special meeting and work session by ironing out the history and clarifying “misinformation” circulating about the board’s long-proposed purchase before deciding how to move forward.

“I want to make it clear that the board has not taken any formal action or votes on what to do potentially with the South Austin high school,” said District 6 board member Paul Saldaña. “There has been no vote by this board to purchase two parcels of land, and there has been no vote by this board to move forward with two South Austin high schools.”

According to District 7 Board Member Robert Schneider, the district has discussed buying land for a South Austin high school since 2001.

Austin voters approved an $82 million bond in 2008, $32 million of which was specifically appropriated to purchase land for a future South Austin high school.

Before a decision on whether to use bonds to purchase land, however, board members said they wanted to educate the public on the variables factoring into the final decision.

“In my estimation, what’s really lacking is taking the information we’ve seen as trustees in the past weeks and months and getting (it) out in a very public way,” said  District 2 Board Member Jayme Mathias.

Officials met in executive session four times in 2014 and Feb. 9 to discuss the purchasing issue.

Schneider said he was a proponent of purchasing two parcels of land for two additional South Austin high schools. It was not “land-banking” but an investment for the district future and needed as reasonably-sized land in South Austin would only become more scare, he said.

Position 9 At-Large Board Member Kendell Pace brought forth financial and student enrollment concerns that did not seem to justify the purchase.

“We’ve also spent time in the first months talking together and discussing our financial situation, we’re at a budget crisis. It’s the third year in a row that we’ve used reserve,” Pace said.

According to the enrollment data for the next 10 years, some current South Austin high schools, such as Crockett and Travis are less than 60 percent full, she said.

“(The report) says out of our five South Austin high schools our enrollment 10 years from today will only be up 10 percent,” Mathias said. “At the same time, from this information we definitely need to find some short-term relief for Bowie High School.”

Bowie High School’s enrollment will reach around 3,290 students by 2019, according to projects. Its current enrollment is about 2,720.

Board members directed district staff to create a timeline with a January 2016 end date. The timeline is to include a final land purchase decision as well as a plan to engage the community, both educating residents about factors involved in creating another high school and potential expansion of more rigorous academic programs in the south.

Delany rios, 7, shows her support for a new south high school at the board Monday work session.

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