Local schools prepare to get facelift after taxpayer group drops its lawsuit

AISD to begin spending voter-approved $489.7M in bond funds

Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the district is informing principals about when facilities work on bond projects approved in 2013 will take place at their schools.

Members of the Travis County Taxpayers Union dropped legal action against AISD related to the bond in early January.

"When the taxpayers union dropped the lawsuit, it finally cleared the path for us to be able to utilize the voter-approved May 2013 bond dollars," Carstarphen said.

Voters approved two of AISD's four bond propositions on the May 2013 ballot.

TCTU had filed a lawsuit against the district claiming that AISD's ballot language excluded language stating the tax rate was "unlimited as to rate or amount." The district could not use the bond money while the lawsuit was pending.

TCTU founder and Treasurer Don Zimmerman said that the suit's plaintiffs were confronted with the possibility of $50,000 in personal losses as a result of a "legal maneuver" by AISD.

TCTU plaintiffs elected to drop the suit, he said.

"The issue is still wide open," he said. "We have a very, very good legal case that still hasn't been decided."

At its Jan. 27 meeting, the AISD board of trustees approved appointments to the 2013 Community Bond Oversight Committee and the selection of firms from a short list of firms recommended by staff to provide construction manager-at-risk services for 2013 bond program projects.

AISD staffers have already evaluated contractor proposals for district projects.

The board's approval will allow the Construction Management Department to negotiate with firms and prepare contracts, according to Paul Turner, AISD executive director of facilities.

Turner said Phase 1 projects include work at Bedichek, Burnet and Fulmore middle schools; Andrews, Highland Park, Menchaca and Patton elementary schools; and Austin, Crockett, Bowie, Lanier and Travis high schools.

When it comes to prioritizing bond projects, critical needs will be the first priority, Carstarphen said.

"Safety and security comes first," she said. "Our buildings are older. We have to wait for each bond [to pay for repairs]; we don't have a lot of money for ongoing maintenance."

The bond projects will help ensure safety and security needs of the school district's campuses are met immediately and appropriately, Carstarphen said.

AISD Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Fryer said the taxpayer group's legal action delayed the first round of projects.

"That did definitely slow down the Phase 1 implementation because we were gearing up to begin working this summer, and now we still have to go through some contracting, design and other steps before we can even get to actual implementation," he said.

Some projects that were scheduled for summer 2014 will be postponed until summer 2015, but some parts of other projects will take place this summer and fall, Turner said.