1 a.m. update: The Austin school board overnight approved 40 bond projects totalling $990 million, and will officially call for a November bond election next Monday. The approval of the projects was among three major financial decisions made at the 7-hour Monday night school board meeting that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morning.
9:40 p.m. update: The public portion of the Austin school board’s meeting is still underway.
The board is expected to vote on three major financial decisions tonight. It has already approved the district’s $1.46 billion budget for 2017-2018 and the sale of two district surplus properties for $11.8 million. The board is still pending to vote on calling for a November bond package that could hit $1 billion.
This is a developing story; check back here throughout the evening for updates. Follow American-Statesman reporter Melissa Taboada, who will be live-tweeting from the meeting.
5:30 p.m. update: The Austin school board tonight will weigh a nearly $1.1 billion bond package, new district documents show.
The $1.073 billion bond package includes building replacement schools for Casis, Menchaca, Brown and Govalle elementary schools, a new school for southwest Austin, relocating LASA from LBJ High School to the Johnston campus, where Eastside Memorial High is housed, building a new campus for Eastside Memorial and starting at LBJ a career launch program and medical magnet school, and building the first phase of a relief school for Blazier, among other projects.
Excluded from the list is a new middle school in the Mueller development, a new elementary school to relieve overcrowding in northwest Austin, the modernization project for Martin Middle School, among other things.
The district would use left over funds from previous bonds and money from upcoming land sales to bring the total down to $990 million, the amount that would go before voters in November.
The board meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in closed session. The public portion of the meeting is expected to begin at 7 p.m. All 30 slots to address the board during public comment have been filled, though there is availability to speak about the budget only during a designated public hearing on that issue.
The Austin school board tonight will vote on three major financial decisions including calling for a November bond package that could hit $1 billion, approving the district’s $1.45 billion budget and tax rate for 2017-18, and selling the first set of 10 district properties.
Tonight’s meeting, with the public portion slated to start at 7 p.m., is expected to stretch for hours. The public will have two chances to weigh in, including a public hearing specifically for the budget, and general public comment, which is likely to draw opinions on the bond decision and property sales.
As of Wednesday night, the school board had yet to decide on exactly what to include in the bond proposal or much how it will be. One of the most divisive projects emerged publicly only last week and would relocate the nationally ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School out of LBJ High School to become a stand alone school at the former Johnston High School campus, where Eastside Memorial High School is housed. Eastside then would get a new, mid-sized campus on the original L.C. Anderson High School site, where the Alternative Learning Center currently sits.
Over the weekend, those opposed to the decision protested at Eastside Memorial, saying the decision demonstrated the district’s lack of respect for the East Austin community by not vetting the proposal or seeking input. LASA parents have long petitioned the district for a stand alone school that is more centrally located that would allow it to grow to 2,000 students, nearly double its current size.
Late last week, the Travis County Taxpayers Union asked the district to halt any plans to demolish T.A. Brown Elementary, one of the projects in the bond package, alleging structural damages that prompted the sudden closure of the school were exaggerated to help the district win over voters for the proposed bond election. The school board is scheduled to decide tonight on a separate vote for the selection of a contractor for the demolition of the campus.
Trustees at about 10:20 p.m. are slated to pick up the issue for the November bond package, though some in the community are calling on trustees to push back the decision at least a week.
As of Monday morning, the bond election agenda items showed the proposal of what exactly would be in the bond, or its price tag, remained under development, though the projects in the bond package have come from work over the last year on a 25-year master plan aimed at modernizing the district and all of its campuses. As of Wednesday night, trustees were jockeying for proposals that ranged between $946.1 million and $1.02 billion.
Also tonight, trustees are expected to approve the district’s nearly $1.5 billion budget for 2017-18, which will give employees a 1.5 percent raise. The raises total more than $8.5 million.
The district’s recapture payment — required from property-wealthy districts to subsidize property-poor districts under the state’s school finance system — this year is expected to be $534 million, an increase of 32 percent, or $127.8 million, over 2016-17. Austin is the largest payer of recapture. More than $54 million will come out of reserves to cover the district’s costs, leaving the district an operating budget of $914.1 million.
The school board also is expected to approve two sales of district properties for $11.8 million. Trustees are expected to approve the bids by RSI Communities for $7.2 million for the 32 acre-Loyola Lane property, at the intersection of Loyola Lane and Ed Bluestein Boulevard, and $4.6 million for the 12-acre Service Center land, located south of East 51st Street. RSI plans to develop single-family homes, including 25 percent designated as affordable housing with priority given to district employees, and families with children attending district schools.
The sales are the first among the set of 10 properties, including the district’s 128,000-square-foot headquarters on West Sixth Street, the Baker Center in Hyde Park and the former Millett Opera House currently leased by the Austin Club, that could yield the district $90 million, and align with the district’s goal of creating more affordable housing for its employees and district families.
Other actions slated for the agenda include:
• launching a Montessori program at Winn Elementary in the fall
• appointing principals for Allison and Normal elementary schools
• moving forward with a proposed Path-College/Career Prep course that teaches students habits and skills needed in college study and the workforce.