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School district drums up support for upcoming bond package

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

In its campaign to get inform voters about most expensive school bond in Austin’s history, the school administration has counted on the age-old aphorism that seeing is believing. Last Thursday, the Austin Independent School District hosted a media tour of three facilities in an effort to illustrate to the public how a bond can revitalize the infrastructure of district schools and provide for students in need.

In June, the AISD Board of Trustees called for a $1.05 billion bond election for this coming November, which if approved would start funding modernization and renovation projects as soon as June 2018. AISD’s budget and finance departments worked meticulously to calculate the maximum number of projects the bond could include without raising the tax rate.

The last school bond election in 2013 raised anxiety among AISD officials when two of the four propositions failed to pass, resulting in the district missing out on approximately $400 million in potential spending. This time around, the board decided to put all its eggs in one basket: There will be no separate propositions.

The fate of the entire package rests on local voters, or to be more accurate on a small percentage of them. In 2013, around 10 percent of registered voters participated.

It is this context that has compelled AISD to prove that a bond is worth voting for. The tour began at the campus of Winn Elementary, where a new $3.3 million library was completed earlier this year with 2013 bond funds. Principal Anayansi Blessum said that the new facility had attracted parents and prospective students to Winn.

“It’s a wonderful space. I think that our kids deserve this,” Blessum said. “Our students can come and connect with their books and their learning, and they are excited to be in here.”

LBJ Early High School has also made use of 2013 bond money to build a $750,000 modern health sciences center as part of its career launch program. Construction started in April of this year, and principal Sheila Henry said that she was relieved when the first phase of the project was completed before the fall semester. Still, she said that expansion of the program would depend on future bond money.

“We’re definitely going to need the support of the bond so that we can make it happen for our students,” Henry said.

Whereas the majority of the tour had been about the success of prior bond spending, the tour ended by focusing on the need for future investment. The Rosedale School, which caters to students with severe special needs in the district, currently resides on a campus that has fallen into disrepair.

“Everything in this facility is not performing the way it should be,” explained Matias Segura with AECOM, the consultant firm that helped draft the Facility Master Plan update.

Rosedale is one of several schools that will relocate to a new home if the bond passes, and principal Elizabeth Dickey said that a modernized campus was needed to be responsive to the special medical conditions of Rosedale students. “We are in a failing building right now,” she said. “All of the students in Austin deserve a safe building that can help them learn.”

This story has been changed since publication to reflect the fact that AISD’s bond campaign is informational, and not advocating for its approval, which would be a violation of state law.

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