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FROM OVERNIGHT: AISD board approves $4.6 billion facility master plan

Austin school district trustees in the early hours of Tuesday morning approved 6-3 a $4.6 billion facilities master plan after more than a nine-hour meeting that began Monday evening.

The decision paves the way for the first of the plan’s priority projects to be placed within a bond package that is likely to go before voters in November.

The 25-year facility master plan includes hundreds of recommendations aimed at modernizing the district and all of its campuses. Those recommended projects not included in the first six years are expected to be spread out over several multi-million bond packages in the next three decades. The district’s average facility is 40 years old, with some over a century old. Nearly 40 percent has been determined to be in poor or very poor condition.

After a two-hour public hearing, the school board debated various amendments brought forward by four trustees for nearly five hours before voting on the issue.

Trustees Ted Gordon, Jayme Mathias and Paul Saldaña, who represent geographic areas with mostly ethnic minorities, voted against the plan. They said they had remaining concerns about various aspects of the proposal, pushing back against some recommendations they felt were inequitable.

“There are certain things in this proposal, in good conscience, I just cannot support,” Gordon said.

Much discussion revolved around equity and whether to move the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) to a central location. Despite Gordon’s attempt to keep LASA at LBJ High by proposing the construction of new facilities at LBJ, other trustees voted down the suggestion.

Talks also were also focused on the fate of underenrolled schools and the so-called Target Utilization Plans aimed giving campuses with enrollment under 75 percent a chance to boost enrollment before they are closed.

Of the two dozen amendments, trustees approved prioritizing within the first six years building a middle school in the Mueller neighborhood and refurbishing and repurposing the original L.C. Anderson High school (now the Alternative Learning Center), though a couple of trustees questioned whether the additional projects will cause a future bond package to get too big.

Trustees also approved prioritizing customized marketing plans for 23 underenrolled schools, instead of five, giving those campuses priority in communication and additional specialized administrative support, and considering whether the school is recognized by the state for high performance or substantial progress in closing the academic achievement gap before the district decides on closure.

Amendments that failed included Gordon’s recommendation to place advanced academic programs in every quadrant of the district.

Trustee Yasmin Wagner said she was disappointed by the dissents, after thousands of hours of work and so much community input was gathered to pull the plan together.

“I truly feel a vote against this plan…is a vote against all of the good things that are in this document that are set to help our schools,” Wagner said. “It is a vote against all of our campuses, our students and our staff because it leaves them vulnerable to reactionary decision making.”

If the school board calls for, and voters approve, a bond package, the projects to be tackled in the first six years include:

• Relocating LASA High School to a central location,

• Constructing three new schools to relieve overcrowding,

• Constructing the middle school in Mueller,

• Tearing down and rebuilding T.A. Brown Elementary,

• Refurbishing repurposing the original L.C. Anderson High (now the Alternative Learning Center) and

• Comprehensive renovations to the Ann Richards School and the Rosedale School, where the district serves its students with severe special needs.

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