The Austin school board early Tuesday approved 40 bond projects totaling $990 million, but delayed the actual vote to call for a November bond election until next week.
The approval of the projects was among three major financial decisions trustees made during a seven-hour board meeting Monday night that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morning. Trustees also approved a nearly $1.5 billion budget and the sales of two district properties totaling $11.8 million.
During the meeting, multiple parents and community members called on the board to wait on calling the bond election so affected schools could have time to vet recently emerged projects. Those projects would include relocating the nationally ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy from LBJ High School to a stand-alone school of up to 2,000 students at the former Johnston High campus — where Eastside Memorial High is housed — and building a new campus for Eastside Memorial at the original L.C. Anderson school site.
Trustees are expected to call for the November bond election next Monday.
The total bond package totals nearly $1.1 billion, but the district plans to use leftover funds from previous bonds and money from upcoming land sales to bring the total down to $990 million. District officials have said that they can keep the tax rate flat if the bond package remains at $1 billion or less.
The $1.073 billion in bond projects include building replacement schools for Casis, Menchaca, Brown and Govalle elementary schools, and a new school for Southwest Austin, among other projects. It also calls for the LASA move, a new school for Eastside, and starting a career launch program and medical magnet school at LBJ High.
The package excludes a new elementary school to relieve overcrowding in Northwest Austin, the modernization project for Martin Middle School, and a middle school in East Austin at the Mueller development. Several community members petitioned the board during public comments Monday night to include that proposed middle school and threatened to oppose the bond package if the project was excluded. Board discussions grew contentious over the issue.
“If you construct a bond package that follows our city’s history of racism and classism, and serves LASA families at the exclusion of the Northeast and East and middle schools, I will be, I promise, vocally against,” University of Texas associate professor Kevin Michael Foster said.
A previous administrative recommendation left off LASA and the Mueller area middle school from the projects to be considered in the bond, but last week, trustees proposed adding LASA back.
Trustee Ted Gordon, who insisted on getting the Mueller school and other projects back into the proposal, which would have pushed the bond amount over $1 billion, was the only board member to vote against the list.
He also said the Mueller middle school is a solution to curb charter school competition in that area, and emphasized that the removal of LASA from LBJ, which he has always opposed, causes further segregation in the district because three high schools in the area — LBJ, Reagan and Eastside — will educate a population of nearly all low-income, black and Hispanic students once LASA moves. Because of the Mueller development’s location and goal to attract diversity, the middle school would educate students of various socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, Gordon argued.
“This board has stated that desegregation is one of its principles. I don’t see it,” he said. “Where is that represented in what we’re about to do? It’s not. (Mueller) is a plan that seeks to make our area, a school, that is diverse.”
But with a price tag of $61 million to build it, other trustees pushed back. Trustee Cindy Anderson said the board needed to keep the bond package under $1 billion so the tax rate doesn’t increase.
“We’ve got some tough decisions to make, but in the eleventh hour, trying to make switches and going above what we set as a priority, I find, really, really problematic,” she said. “For our taxpayers who already are going to face the costs of their appraisals increasing, a tax rate increase for this, I’m not sure is our best choice.”
There were multiple failed amendments to include the Mueller middle school throughout the meeting. Trustees ultimately excluded the project, but directed Superintendent Paul Cruz to talk with the Mueller developer and city officials to explore whether they could work out a deal to bring project costs down to perhaps include it in the final vote next Monday.
Earlier in the evening, trustees approved a $1.46 billion budget, which includes an across-the-board employee salary increase of 1.5 percent, totaling 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 last year. Austin is the largest recapture payer in the state.
The district will have an operating budget of $914.1 million that includes placing a Montessori program at Winn Elementary, expanding the early college high school programs to more schools, and creating a dyslexia school. More than $54 million will come out of reserves to cover the district’s shortfall.
Under the budget plan, the district’s tax rate, to be voted on in August, remains flat at $1.192, per $100 of assessed property value, with $1.079 for operations and just over 11 cents for debt repayment.
The Austin school board also approved the bids by RSI Communities of $7.2 million for the district’s 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 residences, which would include designating 25 percent as affordable housing. Priority would be given to school district employees and families with children attending district schools.
The sales are the first among a set of 10 properties — including the district’s 128,000-square-foot headquarters on West Sixth Street — that could yield the district $90 million, and advance the district’s goal of creating more affordable housing for its employees and district families.