Viewpoints: Austin ISD bond puts kids on track for 21st century jobs

  • Editorial Board
5:10 p.m Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 Opinion
Eric Shaffer teaches an engineering class for freshman at Reagan High School in March.

Austin Independent School District voters face a rock-and-hard-place decision regarding the school district’s $1.05 billion bond proposition.

The rock is rising property tax bills that are pounding their wallets. Voters’ tax bills will rise even more if they approve the single proposition on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The hard place is the poor state of many Austin ISD facilities and obsolete technology that make it ever tough to compete with charter schools and provide the training and tools needed to prepare students for the Central Texas workforce and global economy.

Against that backdrop, we urge voters to choose the hard place and support the bond package.

VIEWPOINTS BLOG: No kidding, Austin tax bills are squeezing some out.

Certainly, school trustees and Superintendent Paul Cruz stumbled in putting together a bond proposition that was supposed to focus on what they call “worst-first” projects to address necessities, such as run-down schools, overcrowding, outmoded technology, deferred maintenance and structural problems that led to one school, T.A. Brown Elementary, being demolished, and sections of Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Academy going dark.

To such dire needs they unfortunately added nonessential projects, such as expanding and relocating the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, that should have been delayed to keep tax bills as low as possible. Keeping the bond package under $1 billion would have been an easier sell.

It’s also obvious that district officials were strategic in incorporating high-dollar — though needed — makeovers and expansions for Bowie High (about $88 million) and a new elementary campus ($36 million), both in Southwest Austin, and renovations and new construction for Casis and Doss elementaries and Murchison Middle School (more than $100 million) in Northwest Austin. All are situated in affluent areas that typically generate higher voter turnout than most other areas of the district.

COMMENTARY: Austin ISD bond plan would create segregation.

Politics aside, the case for approving the proposition is solid:

COMMENTARY: Austin ISD bond package isn’t perfect but deserves support.

Trustees arrogantly wrapped all projects in a single proposition that presents voters with an all-or-nothing choice. That — along with the district’s lack of transparency in boasting no increase in the tax rate while downplaying the true impact on tax bills, which will rise, given yearly increases in property values – might backfire if voters struggling to pay property taxes reject bonds.

Only when we asked did district officials provide a tax bill increase estimate based on approving the bonds. For the median-priced Austin ISD home of $262,282 this year, the tax bill would rise to $3,345 in 2019, or by $219, assuming a 7-percent increase in taxable property value. That would grow to $3,579 in 2020. Those are conservative estimates, since property values rose about 12 percent each year on average for the past five years.

That brings us back to the rock – soaring tax bills – and the hard place — quality schools that lean forward. It’s a difficult choice that boils down to the public’s willingness to sacrifice, not just for Austin ISD students, but for our local economy and quality of life. In our view, that is worth the investment of higher tax bills.

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