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Thursday, September 28, 2017 by Joseph Caterine
AISD board and east side group dispute bond tax rate
The Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees has hedged its bet on passing the largest bond in the district’s history by asserting that it will not raise the tax rate. At its Sept. 25 meeting, however, the board was confronted by many non-believers who accused the district of intentionally misleading the public about the bond’s impact on property taxes.
About three-quarters of an Austin landowner’s property tax bill goes to the school district, and an increase in that bill was a line the majority of trustees were unwilling to cross during deliberation of the $1.05 billion bond package back in June. Board President Kendall Pace referenced polling data that showed over 70 percent of respondents preferred a bond that would not raise the tax rate.
This Monday, the Save East Austin Schools group protested outside the board meeting, advocating for voters to reject the bond package in November. Self-identified “angry taxpayer” John Goldstone, who is a member of Austin Taxpayer Advocate and the Travis County Taxpayer Union said during the protest that he interpreted the district’s emphasis on “no tax rate increase” as a ploy to persuade residents that voting for the bond was the better deal because it meant no additional taxes.
On the contrary, Goldstone pointed out that even though the tax rate hasn’t changed from last year, the average landowner will pay $374 more in property taxes for schools. “We cannot trust these people with our money, let alone the education of our children,” he said. “They’ve lost all credibility with this bond.”
During the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson responded to the concern voiced by Goldstone. “(Whether) this bond passes or not folks will probably see increases in their (assessed valuations),” she said. “The market really dictates (the assessments).”
Conley Johnson said that the district had also made an effort to distinguish between increases in tax bills versus tax rates and that she was happy to share additional tools or models with concerned citizens. She also clarified that the finance division would not be able to recommend lowering the tax rate until 2021, based on the current debt schedule.
In agreement, Trustee Ann Teich said that there were “many factors” that contributed to property values increasing, and that rise should not be seen as being contingent on this bond passing. Furthermore, Trustee Amber Elenz said that if the bond passes, the entire $1.05 billion would be invested in AISD’s infrastructure as opposed to the district’s maintenance and operating tax, which is recaptured by the state to fund districts with lower tax bases. In other words, “What’s raised here, stays here,” she said.
While property values would likely increase whether or not the bond passes, Conley Johnson said that programming would suffer if the bond package did not pass. Without the $1.05 billion, the district would be forced to divert funds from its operating budget to conduct emergency repairs on failing buildings. The average AISD structure is 46 years old.
“Every pressure that we put on our M&O budget, basically we’re taxing taxpayers four times to generate the same dollar,” Conley Johnson said. “It really does maximize the taxpayer’s investment if we’re able to modernize those buildings so that they perform better.”
Early voting for the bond election begins Oct. 23, and the official election day is Nov. 7.
This article has been changed since publication to correct a misspelling and to clarify John Goldstone’s association with Austin Taxpayer Advocate and the Travis County Taxpayer Union .
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