Austin ISD could be closer to buying land in South Austin for a potential school site. The school district’s board of trustees has been in talks for the past few months about voting on a land purchase sometime in August.
The board has discussed whether to buy multiple parcels of land, one parcel of land or no land for a south high school site but has not made a final decision. Trustees made plans to discuss related real estate issues during a June 22 meeting in executive session.
Trustee Paul Saldaña said he wants to make it clear the district is talking about purchasing land, not building a school.
“My guess is the very earliest that we would be able to build a high school in South Austin is probably five years away, and that still doesn’t do us any good with addressing the issues of under-enrolled and overcrowded schools,” he said.
Voters approved $32 million in bond funds in 2008 for a land purchase, and this is not the first time trustees have approached the issue with renewed energy since then. AISD has held south high school community engagement meetings throughout the years, including several in 2013 focused on academic programming, trustee Kendall Pace said.
The board indicated March 9 it would make a decision by December on whether to purchase south high school land and on April 13 discussed potential next steps related to the land purchase.
“I think we need to just say we’re going to buy it; we’re going to buy a piece of land,” trustee Ann Teich said April 13. “And we decide where that’s going to be.”
At an April 21 meeting, trustee Robert Schneider suggested setting a mid-May deadline for trustees to submit questions about the land purchase. At press time the board had not announced the date of an official vote on the land purchase.
Oak Hill resident John Rosshirt, a Stanberry & Associates Realtor who serves on the National Association of Realtors’ Smart Growth Advisory Board, said schools’ locations affect quality of life, traffic and safety. He said AISD should find a site with neighborhoods nearby so students can walk and ride bikes to school rather than a site with a large attendance zone, which would continue to clog roads at peak travel times.
“It doesn’t serve the community to have [a school site] away from where the people are,” he said, adding a good community school boosts property values.
Some residents have said the district should buy land in Southwest Austin, and others say AISD should buy land in Southeast Austin, citing
population growth there.
Schneider has advocated for buying one parcel in Southwest Austin and one in Southeast Austin to give AISD future options as land prices increase.
Kelly Tagle, a mother of a Barton Hills Elementary School student and an Austin High School student, said she does not have strong feelings about the site’s location.
“I don’t know what’s available and what’s affordable,” she said. “… [Trustees] have to be so mindful of who is being affected because if there’s a new school, then boundaries change, and you can’t please everybody.”
Bowie and Akins high schools need overcrowding relief, she said. Austin's growth in the past few years has been tremendous, she said.
Current projections show BHS will be over capacity by about 1,100 students in a few years, trustee Jayme Mathias said in a recent board meeting.
No school in sight
Trustees and Superintendent Paul Cruz emphasized AISD is not looking at building a school. There is no money to build or operate a new south high school, Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley said.
“If we were to build a south high school ... we’d have to go out and ask voters to authorize bond funds,” she said.
Mathias noted that although Bowie is overcrowded, Travis and Crockett high schools combined are expected to have 1,700 empty seats in about five years.
That makes it hard for the district to justify the expense of land, Tagle said.
“Nobody wants to change the boundaries to shift the populations around,” she said. “That’s not a popular fix, but I just wonder if that’s something that could be explored.”
The board can hold a public hearing and recommend the land be used for another type of school, Saldaña said.
“There isn’t data that quantifies us building a new high school. … The data supports building an elementary school in South Austin,” he said, noting Blazier Elementary School could be 226 percent over capacity within two years.
AISD will need land eventually, trustee Edmund Gordon said April 13.
“We are in a situation where [bond] dollars are the most efficacious dollars we can get,” he said. “... I suggest that we invest them.”