Tax rate impact, equity addressed during Austin ISD bond update

District trustees and staff members discussed board policy changes to help improve the district's construction program.

District trustees and staff members discussed board policy changes to help improve the district's construction program.

So-called misinformation surrounding the $1.05 billion Austin ISD bond referendum was addressed by the district's trustees and staff members during tonight's board meeting.

Allegations of inequity have been floated by members of the AISD community who claim the district's bond referendum, slated to appear on the November ballot, favors more affluent schools west of I-35. Superintendent Paul Cruz addressed those claims by pointing to Title I schools on both sides of the interstate included in the bond proposal.

"We have students who are economically disadvantaged throughout our entire city, and that is reflected in our campuses," he said. "East and west does not define poverty for us."

Rumors that trustees said have caused confusion among the public were also addressed by the board. Trustee Jayme Mathias confronted what he called an "alternative fact" alleging a district plan to rebuild Eastside Memorial High School atop a landfill, labeling it an attempt to discourage voters from pushing through the proposed bond.

"There are less questions [from the community about the bond] and more mistruths and alternative facts, if we are going to call them what they are," he said.

Several speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting also accused the board of spreading false information regarding the bond's related tax impact. AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson has maintained the bond will not result in a property tax rate increase for district taxpayers.

"We did a tax-capacity analysis, which tested the sensitivity to the actual debt we are planning to take on as a result of the proposed bond," she said. "When articulating the tax rate, there is no impact; there is the impact of growth, which you will experience whether the bond is approved or not."

Trustee Ann Teich reinforced this claim by placing the onus of property tax rate increases on Austin's economy.

"If your tax rate goes up, it's not a function of this bond being passed; it's about your [property] values going up," she said.

The funding realized from the passage of the bond would stay in AISD, unlike most of the taxpayer dollars currently allocated toward the "Robin Hood," or recapture, system, Teich said, which redistributes property tax money to school districts deemed by the state as "property-poor."

The bond's impact on schools previously slated for consolidations with another campus due to enrollment issues was also discussed briefly by the board. Trustee Amber Elenz reminded the public that approval of the bond would guarantee special attention be paid to these schools, which for the present have been placed on a target utilization plan, or TUP, list to address utilization.

"What the [Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee] has laid out is mindful and intentional work to plan what is the right thing for these kids," she said. "The bond would give us the time and the ability to have that planning session. Without the bond we don't get to work as closely with our communities."

Johnson confirmed the bond could determine whether schools on the TUP are closed and consolidated.

"The bond only furthers that FABPAC goal of making sure the space is modernized before the kids are merged into another building," she said.
By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.


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