During an Austin ISD board meeting April 1, trustees voted to approve a resolution providing oversight for its $892 million bond amid tension about whether the Austin Chamber of Commerce would continue to support it.
At its Feb. 25 meeting, the board called for a May 11 bond election to fund facilities changes ranging from systemic repairs to new schools, technology upgrades and new athletics and fine arts facilities. As part of the process, the district developed a resolution to establish an oversight committee for the bond and develop a Facility Master Plan by June 30, 2014.
On April 1, trustee Lori Moya asked if the board could extend the timeline to develop the FMP and change "Facility Master Plan" to "Facilities Utilization Plan." She said she thought the June 30 deadline was too soon to fully address the needs of an FMP, and she felt as if the board was being pressured.
"I don't believe that any organization should think that they have the right to strong-arm or blackmail a governmental entity into getting what they want," Moya said.
The board voted to approve her amendment, but after a few minutes of discussion on another topic, Moya proposed that the board revisit the motion.
Drew Scheberle, vice president for education with the chamber, said earlier in the day that the chamber was in support of the proposed resolution. Outside the board meeting, Scheberle said that when the AISD board moved to amend the resolution's language, he had to go back to his board to find out whether the chamber could still support it.
"The chamber had taken that proposed language to our board last Thursday, and we worked on trust that they would adopt that language," he said.
Scheberle did not confirm or deny that the board had withdrawn its support as a result of the language change.
"Our board couldn't act that quickly," he said, adding that since the board reverted back to its original proposed resolution, "the point is, we're in full support of the bond."
Trustee Cheryl Bradley commented on the matter of stakeholder support during the board meeting.
"I don't believe that we should let anyone—anyone—dictate how we do anything when it comes to this bond. So if they don't want to participate, don't participate. But how dare you think that you're going to come up here and twist our arms with some nonsense," she said. "I just won't stand for it."
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the administration and board officers worked on the resolution and received feedback from multiple stakeholder groups, with some asking the board to add in specific language. She said the board declined to make those changes in the final resolution.
"This is the language that we came up with as a district," she said.
AISD has adopted resolutions that appoint bond oversight committees and commit to effective facilities master planning before bond elections since the mid-'90s. The resolution regarding the use of 2013 bond funds states that:
- An appointed oversight committee will present public reports semiannually to the board detailing the status of projects funded by the bonds
- Bond funding will be used for projects authorized in the bond propositions
- The board recognizes and acknowledges its responsibility to use bond funding and commits to providing the best educational environment for students in the district
- No additional undesignated schools will be constructed without sufficient Maintenance and Operations funds to operate each new school at the time it is projected to begin operation
- The board supports the district's development of an FMP on or before June 30, 2014, and the FMP would include specific plans and/or remedies for under-enrollment in order to optimize the use of facilities
- The resolution is effective upon voters' approval of propositions in the May election
Board president Vincent Torres said that addressing a resolution as part of a bond election is nothing new—in fact, the first three portions of the resolutions are exactly the same as components of previous resolutions, he said.
The board's vote in February calling for the bond election was unanimous. The bond's four propositions aim to provide funding for improvements in categories including technology, building infrastructure, academic initiatives, fine arts, athletics and relief from overcrowding, according to AISD.
More information, including school- and project-specific details about the bond, is available at https://www.austinisd.org/bond/interactive-map.