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Potential Austin ISD bond proposal could include funding to help teachers with housing

Tuesday, June 21, 2022 by Becky Fogel, KUT

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees will decide later this summer whether to include a bond package on the ballot in November. A bond allows the school district to borrow money to cover the cost of capital expenditures, such as updating facilities, improving technology and buying new buses. The 2022 bond program may also address a growing crisis in Austin: the lack of affordable housing.

The last time Austin voters approved a bond was in 2017. The $1 billion bond was the largest bond in the school district’s history. Matias Segura, AISD’s chief of operations, says the focus of that bond, which passed with 72 percent of the vote, was on improving facilities that were in bad condition.

“And we moved away from a Band-Aid approach, which is what the district had been using for so many years,” Segura said. “What happens over time is those deficiencies begin to stack up and our annual operating budget can’t address all of them in the right way at that time.”

This time around, improving facilities is still key, but Segura says the district is taking a different approach.

“This is not a facilities-led process,” he said, “this is an academic-led process.”

One of the proposals that has come out of the current planning process is investing in affordable housing. During a special meeting Tuesday night, the school board will discuss whether money from the 2022 bond proposal should be earmarked for the construction of teacher housing. A presentation produced by AISD staff looks at the real estate the district owns and how it could be used to create affordable housing for teachers and staff.

According to the presentation, a person would need to make $171,794 a year to buy an “average” home in Austin now. To afford rent on a one-bedroom apartment, a person would need to make nearly $59,000 a year. Many AISD teachers make less than that.

Austin ISD staff

The presentation points out that competition for teachers is increasing as other Central Texas school districts offer more robust benefit packages. Although it’s unclear what role housing costs played, AISD saw a significant uptick in turnover during the 2021-22 school year: 2,106 employees resigned compared with 1,635 during the 2020-21 school year, 1,114 during the 2019-20 school year, and 1,655 the year before.

Austin ISD staff

AISD has looked at school districts in other cities that have offered affordable housing as a strategy to retain educators. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, worked with a developer on a building with 66 units located next to an elementary school. Priority for half of the units goes to LAUSD employees.

The Santa Clara Unified School District, also in California, used 3.5 acres of land on a former middle school property to construct affordable housing for teachers. The district has seen the attrition rate for young teachers improve when compared with colleagues who do not live in one of the 70 units on that property.

AISD staff also identified two cities in West Texas that are trying to create affordable housing for teachers. Last month, voters approved bonds for Fort Stockton ISD and Buena Vista ISD that will allow the districts to construct, renovate and acquire housing for local teachers.

The board of trustees’ special board meeting begins at 6 p.m. It will be held at the district’s central office and can also be viewed online here.

Trustees will decide in August whether to include the bond package on the Nov. 8 ballot.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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