Commentary: On school bonds, it’s time to go in for all of Austin

When your school district includes 130 buildings with an average age of 46 years, major renovations will be in order. It is time for Austin to go all in for a school bond that declares our commitment to education across the whole city.

The current proposed bond package serves some areas well, neglects others, and doesn’t do enough to address the loss of students to charter schools and Austin ISD’s neighboring school districts. The means to construct a bond that serves all students well is there. The question is: Do we have the will?

Austin ISD leadership and community members have engaged in a thoughtful, comprehensive and complex facilities-planning process that informs the most important education bond in our city’s history. The results include two well-conceived project lists. One contains conventional items, such as new schools to accommodate severe overcrowding and modernization for basic safety and efficiency. Another list contains visionary items that bring our district into the 21st century in terms of school configuration, programming and design.

VIEWPOINTS: AISD trustees should take more time to call bond election.

To be sure, going all in will be a challenge. A bond package that includes both lists — the essential and the visionary — would likely come in at $1.4 billion and result in a return to our 2014 tax rate by 2024. On the other hand, doing less will lock us into unhealthy, outdated facilities, as well as regional strife.

An all-in bond package that reflects input from community members across the city would include something for every area. Southwest Austin would see the much-needed expansion of Bowie High School and construction of a new elementary school to address overcrowding. West-central Austin would benefit from improvements that facilitate programmatic rollouts at Austin and McCallum High Schools, and a rebuild of Casis Elementary. Northwest Austin would enjoy facility expansions and reinventions throughout the Anderson vertical team, including Doss Elementary, Murchison Middle and Anderson High.

Northeast Austin would be served by a co-ed middle school option designed to capitalize on the diverse local population and ensure a K-12 pathway for students in the area, which could complement single-gender schools and recover students. East-central Austin would see the modernization of Martin Middle School. In the Southeast, Blazier Elementary would grow into the district’s first K-8 school, addressing its booming population.

Districtwide benefits would include the expansion of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy (LASA) and improvements at Rosedale School and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. Rosedale and Ann Richards are gems. Ann Richards has significant socioeconomic diversity, with 75 percent of students coming from Title I schools. Rosedale improvements will blend health care and education to serve our most medically fragile students.

In a best-case scenario, we go all in and pass a comprehensive bond that serves all well. Unfortunately, our current proposal, while serving many essential needs, also fuels regional feuding. It does so by adding funding for LASA at the expense of other critical East Austin projects. Such an unfortunate package would be historically consistent with earlier city decisions like those in 1918 (closure of the all-black Clarksville school to facilitate a city land grab of an all-black community), 1928 (the creation of a “Negro district” with the idea that segregation was good for everybody), and 1971 (closure of the old Anderson High to supposedly facilitate integration).

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Our needs are not limited to some segments of the city. Martin Middle School, the expanded Blazier K-8 and a Northeast Austin middle school were all east side projects that were prioritized in the facility master plan to address enrollment loss and equity. Yet, they have been excluded from the bond after LASA was added. Let’s not pit one against the other.

Austin ISD proudly and frequently declares that “All Means All.” It’s time we go all in for our students, families and teachers. It’s time we go all in for excellence, equity and a well-integrated future. It’s time we go all in for all of Austin.

Foster is an educational anthropologist and an associate professor at the University of Texas. Valencia is senior demographer at Texas Demographic Center and chair of the Mueller Neighborhood Association. Vela is an immigration attorney and former Blanton Elementary PTA president.

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