Austin school tax bills could rise under $1.5 billion bond package

Austin school district taxpayers could see higher tax bills if trustees move forward with $1.5 billion in proposed projects in a November school bond election.

If the school board puts before voters all $1.5 billion worth of proposed projects presented by facility consultants Monday night, the district’s tax rate could increase a maximum of nearly 3 cents to roughly $1.22 per $100 of assessed property value by 2024.

The proposed projects are considered essentials by a school facility and bond advisory committee that was tasked to determine the Austin Independent School District’s needs. The committee spent much of the last year helping create a 25-year facilities master plan with hundreds of recommendations aimed at modernizing the district and its campuses. Such projects include building new schools to provide relief to overcrowded areas of the district, rebuilding the shuttered Brown Elementary and giving LASA High School a new home. Completing all the projects in the master planwould require multiple bond packages over the next few decades.

The board could get the final bond project recommendations for the November package as early as next Monday and must determine whether to whittle down, or add projects, to the list.

Trustee Ted Gordon, who has advocated for a smaller bond package that includes only essentials, asked Superintendent Paul Cruz Monday night which of the 41 items on the proposed list were considered so critical that they must be addressed first.

But other trustees said the bond should do more than just address critical needs, and must work through the recommended master plan projects, which they said align with the district’s branding of “reinventing the urban school experience.”

“This is not a bond that is just supposed to meet our needs,” said Trustee Amber Elenz. “This is a bond that is supposed to move us forward.”

Trustee Jayme Mathias also echoed a similar position.

“This bond is more than just talking about fixing the needs of the past,” he said. “It’s not just looking toward the past and fixing and band-aiding schools, but it’s thinking through a real vision for what this could be.”

But some have raised concerns that voters may not be amenable to a package that exceeds $1 billion.

“We’re just trying to get to something that is manageable for a bond amount,” Cruz said.

Trustee Julie Cowan said would welcome public input to put more, rather than less, of the projects in the bond.

“We think our kids are worth it and our employees are too, and the teaching conditions that they have,” she said. “This is very ambitious; it’s very visionary. I’d love to be a part of it and I hope that our public (does). If not, we’re still going to make the best of it, and stay under a billion and do good things with this as well.”

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