Ex-Council Member Zimmerman joins East Austin foes to oppose AISD bond


Highlights

Voters in November will determine the fate of the $1.05 billion single-proposition measure.

The groups standing together against the bond plan acknowledge their ideological differences.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union is considering making a financial donation to Save East Austin Schools PAC.

An unlikely alliance has formed to oppose the Austin school district’s $1.1 billion bond measure in November.

The Save East Austin Schools political action committee, which says the bond proposal will worsen segregation and do little for the district’s neediest students, says one of the group’s stronger allies is the Travis County Taxpayers Union, led by former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, a staunch conservative. Their reasons for opposing the measure couldn’t be more different.

The Save East Austin Schools group is pushing against the closure of schools that serve mostly low-income minority students, opposes the relocation of an East Austin high school and is calling for more bond money for campuses on the east side of the district. The taxpayers’ union is calling for more fiscal transparency and less spending.

“Sometimes in politics you’re going to have strange bedfellows,” said Monica Sanchez, co-founder of Save East Austin Schools. “We’re not in it to support other causes; we’re in it to show voters why they shouldn’t vote for the bond.”

“The opposition is diverse, and it’s real, and it’s pretty passionate,” Zimmerman said.

READ: What is the tax impact of AISD’s $1.1B bond? Hint: It’s not zero

Voters in November will determine the fate of the $1.05 billion ballot measure. The bulk of the funds in the bond package is earmarked to construct new schools, rebuild several campuses and ease overcrowding in pockets of the 83,000-student district.

But critics point out that more funds are designated to projects west of Interstate 35, the historical boundary between the city’s east and west sides, and its poor and affluent students.

A per-capita breakdown of bond projects shows more money is going to schools with high numbers of low-income students. District officials also are quick to point out that the city’s poverty is not isolated to East Austin.

Opposition to the bond plan also has been fueled by the possibility of shuttering some low-enrolled schools and consolidating them into new or modernized campuses. Internal district documents obtained by the American-Statesman show the district is considering consolidating four schools on the east side and using funds from sales of those schools to reduce the total bond cost.

The bond measure has received support across the city, including from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

READ: Austin ISD is banking on bond to boost enrollment, turn around schools

Sanchez and some of her group’s members have called the bond plan racist and questioned the district’s school closure plans, saying schools on the east side have been targeted, even though campuses in other areas of the district struggle with low enrollment as well.

It’s another of the group’s differences with Zimmerman, who sees the school closures as economic decisions.

“I don’t think the executive decisions have anything to do with racism,” Zimmerman said. “I think they’re economic decisions because so many East Austin children and families have lost faith in the district and have left. … They want to close (schools) because they’re empty, not because they’re racist. But since (other groups) have their own frustrations, we’re joined in the cause of knocking down the bond, so we’re working together.”

Zimmerman said his group is weighing a financial donation to the Save East Austin Schools PAC.

Some in East Austin remember Zimmerman’s controversial remarks to a group of mostly Hispanic students who pressed city leaders in 2016 to continue funding after-school programs. He asked them to pledge to finish school and “do something useful and produce something in your society so you don’t have to live off others.”

On Tuesday, a group of diverse community members and leaders gathered for a news conference organized by Zimmerman at LBJ High School to voice opposition to the bond measure. They included an activist for gun rights, activists for economic equality and social justice, and groups from Mexican-American neighborhoods.

“This is not an east side versus west side thing,” said Pete Salazar, of the Johnston High School alumni group, who is opposed to school closures and relocating Eastside Memorial High School. “This is a not a Republican versus Democrat thing. This is about doing the right thing.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Pflugerville tween finds camaraderie through guns
Pflugerville tween finds camaraderie through guns

Like most 12-year-olds, Ashlynne Thomas can be shy and timid when talking about herself. But out on the shooting range, she comes alive with the confidence of a highly skilled competitor. For the past year, Thomas has competed in the three-gun circuit, a form of competitive shooting that involves the use of three different types of firearms: rifles...
Man dies days after being beaten at South Austin bus stop, police say
Man dies days after being beaten at South Austin bus stop, police say

A man who was beaten at a bus stop on Redd Street and Manchaca Road Saturday has died, Austin Police Department officials said Tuesday.  Officers responded to a disturbance call at the bus stop on Saturday at 8:02 p.m. The caller told police that one man was beating and kicking another. When officers arrived, they found Allen Kiddy, 66, injured...
Abbott’s ‘frightened like a feeble squirrel’ of Trump, GOP lawmaker says
Abbott’s ‘frightened like a feeble squirrel’ of Trump, GOP lawmaker says

In a rare move Tuesday night, a Republican state lawmaker attacked Gov. Greg Abbott for not taking a stand against President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward immigrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico illegally. Under the policy, 2,000 migrant children have been separated from family and placed in shelters, sparking...
UPDATED: Woman found in Granger home had been dead for several days, Wilco sheriff says
UPDATED: Woman found in Granger home had been dead for several days, Wilco sheriff says

11:30 p.m. update: A woman found dead in a Granger home Tuesday night had been dead for several days, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody said. Her death is being treated as a suspicious death, Chody said. He had initially said the woman’s death was being investigated as a homicide.  “All I can say is there’s evidence that...
Lake Travis District selects name, mascot for new middle school
Lake Travis District selects name, mascot for new middle school

The Bee Cave Middle School Raiders was selected by Lake Travis School board members Tuesday evening as the district’s official name and mascot for its newest middle school campus. The district conducted a month-long community survey in the April to gather suggestions for an official name and mascot. District policy states that “facilities...
More Stories