November’s election featuring races for governor and Austin mayor will have another high-profile item as Austin ISD asks for approval of its largest bond package in district history.
The AISD board of trustees authorized the $2.44 billion bond package election by unanimous vote at an Aug. 11 meeting.
AISD board of trustees President Geronimo Rodriguez Jr. said after the bond election vote that trustees will need to reach out to voters.
“The next piece of the work [is] to advocate and work hard to earn the trust of our voters to get a majority of them to support this $2.44 billion,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an investment in our community.
The package, which will appear as three propositions on voters’ ballots, includes funding for infrastructure improvements, school modernizations, security measures, technology upgrades, athletic facility renovations and other projects.
District officials said a $0.01 increase per $100 of taxable property value to the debt service tax rate would likely be necessary if the package is passed in full. A homeowner with a $500,000 property would pay $50 more per year in property taxes with the increase.
In the wake of the deadly May school shooting in Uvalde, AISD interim Superintendent Anthony Mays stressed that the central plank of the bond is security upgrades.
“Safety is our top priority, and that is reflected in this bond,” Mays said during an Aug. 12 press conference.
Building the bond
After successfully passing a $1.05 billion bond in 2017, AISD began planning for another bond in summer 2021 by assessing campuses and facilities. Long-range planning committees made up of students, community members and district personnel then collaborated to develop a list of potential projects.
In Texas, school districts use bond dollars for major facility projects.
Bond dollars are not subject to recapture—a process in which property-wealthy school districts have to pay into the state.
As AISD is slated to send nearly $850 million—or a little over half of the district’s $1.68 billion 2022-23 budget—the bond offers the district a funding lifeline, AISD Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos said.
“Because bond funding is not subject to the state’s recapture formula, 100% of bond dollars will stay in Austin ISD for the benefit of our students and staff,” Ramos said at an Aug. 12 press conference.
Another main concern for district officials was ensuring equity among the different campuses.
Mays said one of the major goals of the bond funding is to close student achievement gaps for those students attending Title 1 schools. To be classified as a Title 1 school, at least 40% of students must be considered economically disadvantaged.
In 2021-22, 51.3% of AISD students were considered economically disadvantaged. At the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, 72 campuses in the district are Title 1.
“This bond directs more resources to Title 1 schools than any previous bond both in total and by percentage,” Mays said.
In the budget
The first, and largest, of the propositions—Proposition A—is valued at $2.32 billion. The major items include safety upgrades, infrastructure improvements, school modernizations and new school buses.
The project with the largest price tag at $251.46 million is a full modernization of Travis Early College High School. Full modernization means the school will be rebuilt or renovated entirely.
Included in Proposition A are funds for either full or phased modernizations of 25 of the district’s schools.
Phased modernizations involve rebuilding campuses in steps. Funding from the 2022 bond would pay for some projects, while other steps were either previously funded through past bonds or would require an additional round of bond funds approved by voters in the future.
The district said it chose campuses with aging or insufficient infrastructure for the renovations. One example is Travis ECHS, which has several issues including a spot of termite damage that has been unrepaired since 2006.
“The students that we have within our schools currently deserve the modernized facilities, and we want to be able to provide the absolute best educational experience for all of our students,” Mays said.
Nearly $30 million is allocated to install secure entry vestibules—a set of double doors that require a staff member to buzz guests inside—at 84 campuses.
Additionally, Proposition A also includes new keys, locks and fencing for some campuses; upgrades to HVAC systems, plumbing and life safety systems; and nearly $26 million for new school buses.
Athletic facilities at each comprehensive high school would receive upgrades. Mental health centers will be built or upgraded at 42 campuses, including at Akins High School and Odom Elementary School.
The second Proposition, B, is valued at $75.54 million and would fund technology improvements. Of that, $45 million would be dedicated to purchasing devices for students and staff, and $10 million would go to updating the district’s network infrastructure.
The smallest Proposition, C, coming in at $47.43 million, would fund upgrades for district athletic facilities. The baseball field at the Burger Athletic Complex in South Austin would be renovated for a projected $4.77 million.
Cost to taxpayers
If the package passes, the district will sell the bonds to investors on the bond market, and use the money to fund its projects. The district will then repay investors on a schedule using the debt service tax revenue collected from taxpayers.
AISD’s proposed overall tax rate for fiscal year 2022-23 would be the district’s lowest in 21 years, a $0.0651 decrease from the previous year.
The district also projects a decrease in the overall rate for FY 2023-24. Even with the passage of the bond package and an ensuing $0.01 increase to the debt service rate, the rate would remain lower.
A lower tax rate does not necessarily mean a lower tax bill. The median market value of a home within AISD’s boundaries increased by 49.74% from 2021 to 2022, while the median taxable property value over the same time period increased 11.51%.
In an effort to educate AISD community members and Austin residents on the bond, AISD officials have planned a series of informational events ahead of the election.
“We can not miss this historic opportunity,” Mays said at an Aug. 9 board work session.
In-person early voting runs Oct. 24-Nov. 4. Election Day is Nov. 8.