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School district announces first-year bond project timelines

Thursday, November 30, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

The Austin Independent School District is not wasting any time putting the 2017 bond money to use, according to a presentation by Superintendent Paul Cruz at the school board’s Nov. 27 meeting. Cruz emphasized that strict adherence to project timelines would be necessary to get the most bang for bond buck, but those schedules could be subject to change based on community-centered processes outlined in the Facility Master Plan Update adopted in April.

The atmosphere at the regular meeting was jubilant and celebratory in the wake of the $1.1 billion bond’s adoption on Nov. 7, which voters decidedly passed with 72 percent voting in approval. The Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, a volunteer group with representatives from across the district, was recognized for its extensive community engagement efforts that informed the design of the bond package itself.

Seventeen projects in total will be funded through the bond, with 10 commencing next year. The construction of new buildings for T.A. Brown, Menchaca, Govalle and Doss elementary schools will begin in the fall of 2018. Bowie High School will start moving on plans for a new parking garage to accommodate its 2,900 students, and modernization and repair projects will initiate on several other campuses. Cruz described the district’s approach in implementing the bond goals as “aggressive.”

“We are in a short time frame, and when we don’t take action, that means money,” Cruz said. “We need to continue on our timeline; otherwise we may not be able to fulfill everything we said we were going to do.”

All trustees expressed their gratitude to Austin voters for passing the biggest bond in the district’s history. Trustee Ann Teich said that the community should know that the board would honor the trust placed in it to follow through on the promises made in the lead-up to the election.

However, as Trustee Edmund Gordon reminded his colleagues, the Facility Master Plan, as a 25-year strategy, was intentionally created to be adaptable to changing circumstances. Although he echoed the appreciation of Austin voters, he thought that the way the superintendent presented the project timelines made it seem like everything was a done deal.

Specifically, Gordon referenced the target utilization plans proposed under the Facility Master Plan Update. This marketing tool was designed to provide communities with an option for under-enrolled schools (elementary schools in particular) to recruit new students and stop consolidation from taking place. Sanchez, Dawson, Brooke, Norman, and Joslin elementary schools have all been recommended to take up this strategy. Gordon said that the fate of these schools should not be assumed in the configuration of the rest of the bond projects.

Moreover, in the months before the election, some communities had actively organized against the bond, notably the Save East Austin Schools political action committee. “We got the bond passed overwhelmingly, but there were important sectors of my community that were not satisfied,” Gordon said.

Gordon, as well as other trustees, urged that these communities should not be discounted as the district moves forward with its plans and that they should continue to be included in these discussions as the district pursues the current calendar for bond projects.

Photo courtesy of Austin Independent School District.

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