Friday, March 20, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

AISD increases community oversight of bond funds

Community members will provide more oversight to Austin Independent School District’s bond projects in the future.

Superintendent Paul Cruz said the AISD’s Community Bond Oversight Committee will begin reviewing changes to bond projects before the board of trustees reviews them. In the past, the board of trustees approved ongoing bond project changes, such as related contracts. Then, CBOC   members reviewed and verified the approved changes.

The AISD board of trustees created the all-volunteer CBOC in 2013 to provide another set of eyes on projects details and funds related to its 2004, 2008 and 2013 bonds. The combined bond issues total about $1.31 billion.

The workflow was already in place, however. Robert Doggett, one of three CBOC chairs, said recently that AISD staff began to switch the order, presenting contract changes to committee members before the items went to the board for approval.

“Right now there’s quite a number of (pending contract changes),” said Doggett. “I think there is roughly 10 or 12.”

During the CBOC’s semiannual report at the March 9 work session, Vice President Amber Elenz recommended that the CBOC’s listed responsibilities include the new role. Other board members thought the change was not needed.

However, Cruz directed staff to continue presenting bond-related contract changes to the committee before the items were listed on the school board’s agenda for approval.

“We will start in that practice,” he said. “We will have bond items go to the CBOC for their review, and we will include language in the agenda item to include if the CBOC has reviewed it.”

The CBOC review would include its recommendations and reasoning, he said.

Gina Hinojosa, president and Position 8 at-large board member, said the practice would remain in place unless the board or staff provides a written explanation of a needed exception.

The CBOC met March 10 to review the items and provide input on the future bond project-related changes. It will continue meeting to provide review on bond-related items throughout the year.

The committee’s semiannual report, which was also presented at the work session, included updates on the AISD’s remaining 2004 bond projects, the 2008 bond program and the 2013 bond program.

The most recent bond program is where most of the contractual changes the CBOC is reviewing lie, Doggett said.

The 2004 bond projects are mostly complete, except for the new soccer facility, which is presently under construction at the Toney Burger Activity Center with a current total project budget of $2,941,155, he said.

The soccer fields will be finished by the end of March. The total 2004 bond amount was $519.5 million, according to board documents.

Most projects associated with the 2008 bond series are also completed, with the exception of the purchase of land for a South Austin high school. The total bond amount approved was $343.7 million, according to board documents.

The 2013 bond projects, budgeted for about $489.7 million in funding, are the ones currently ramping up, said Doggett.

The 2013 bond program supports technology, transportation and energy conservation and addresses critical renovations and improvements at facilities across the AISD. The largest portion of the 2013 bond program includes funds for major and minor infrastructure repair and improvement in area schools.

“As y’all know, you approved a five-phase bond schedule, and of course, Phase I and II are in progress,” Doggett said. “But there is a lot of overlap between Phase I and Phase II, so we are starting to look at that status.”

Phase I renovations are currently underway at Austin, Bowie, Crockett, Lanier and Travis high schools; Bedichek, Burnet and Fulmore middle schools; and Andrews, Highland Park, Menchaca and Patton elementary schools.

Phase II renovations are scheduled for Anderson, Garza Independence and McCallum high schools; Bailey and O. Henry middle schools; and Baranoff, Barton Hills, Casey, Casis, Dawson, Gullett, Hill, Kocurek, Maplewood, Oak Hill, Pease, Pillow, Pleasant Hill, Ridgetop, Sims, St. Elmo, Sunset Valley, Walnut Creek and Winn elementary schools.

The CBOC Historically Underutilized Business, or HUB, subcommittee also drastically improved HUB participation in bond programs compared to previous years, Doggett said.

According to a December 2014 report, 2004/2008 South Soccer Field, Performing Arts Center and Padron Elementary School bond projects awarded 48 percent of the total professional services contracts, 25.4 percent of the total construction contracts and 26.7 percent of total contracts to HUBs.

The racial breakdown of the projects’ labor force, however, shows that none of the professional services workers were African-American, Hispanic, Native American or women, said Paul Saldaña, District 6 board member.

Saldaña said he recommended staff and those involved in outreach to meet with minority chamber associations or professional groups to address the issue.

“I think it’s important to have some conversations with them about best practices,” Saldaña said, “because oftentimes the firms we hire as a district impose what’s called additional pre-qualifiers, which often either deter or hinder the opportunity for additional HUB participation in our contracts.”

Doggett agreed with the pre-qualifier concern. The CBOC is considering recommending a policy change to lower barriers to entry, as contractors individually purchase their own insurance currently. The potential change means the AISD would allow an umbrella insurance policy on potential projects that covers all contractors.

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