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East versus West: Who wins with the Austin ISD bond?

Thursday, September 21, 2017 by Claire McInerny, KUT

The Austin Independent School District has a $1 billion bond that voters will be asked to approve this November. The bond would pay for projects at schools all over the district, but there’s a difference between funding for schools on the east side versus the west.

If approved, some campuses would receive money to do regular maintenance or improve technologies. For Eastside Memorial High School, that means a new school with state-of-the-art technology.

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz said the bond provides an opportunity for schools to adapt as the city changes.

“We’re trying to respond to those changes that have occurred over time,” he said. “But also with this is to bring in new programming.”

One way the district feels it’s doing that is by investing a lot of money in schools on the east side, where enrollment is low. AISD reasons that if it improves the schools and creates attractive academic programs, more families will send their students there.

Here’s how the numbers break down on the east and west sides of I-35:

  • There are almost 60,000 students on the west side of the highway and 25,000 students on the east side.
  • Under the bond proposal, west side schools would receive $680 million and east side schools would receive $329 million.
  • If you break it down by how much would be invested per student, east side students are getting more: The bond proposes $11,000 per west side student and $13,000 per east side student.

“It sounds like it’s a great idea in writing,” said Monica Sanchez, a founder of Save East Austin Schools, a political action committee that opposes the bond as it’s written. She said there’s more to equity than dollar amounts.

“It seems like East Austin high schools are only getting college and career-ready programs,” she said, “and the schools west of I-35 are getting your STEM programs, your mechanical programs, different academies that offer more choices.”

Save East Austin Schools would prefer to see money go toward these academic programs at all schools, rather than massive renovations.

“We really want to be supportive of public schools, supportive of our school district,” Sanchez said. “But when we see that the dollar amounts are not being distributed equitably, we can’t stay silent.”

The district said the building renovations are necessary because many AISD schools are more than 50 years old. Many were retrofitted for modern technology, and those in favor of the bond say it’s time to bring schools up to date.

Voting “yes” for the bond won’t raise the current tax rate, because the district would refinance old debt along with the new bond proposal. But voting “no” won’t lead to lower rates, because without refinancing old debt, the current rate would stay in place.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said LASA was the only school on the East Side that offers AP courses. Eastside Memorial, LBJ and Reagan High Schools also offer AP classes.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo: Melissa Lawrence teaches health sciences at Eastside Memorial High School by Martin do Nascimento/KUT.

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