Voters approve $1.1B Austin ISD bond, largest in Central Texas history

Voters overwhelmingly approved the Austin district’s $1.1 billion bond, the largest bond package to pass in Central Texas history.

The final unofficial results showed 66,512 votes cast, with 72 percent in favor of the bond and 28 percent against, or 47,931 votes for and 18,581 votes against.

The bond funds will pay to rebuild multiple schools, construct new campuses and address overcrowding, and comes after voters rejected half of the district’s bond package in 2013.

READ: Austin ISD looks to bond to boost enrollment, turn around schools

“I feel like it says that people don’t just like their public schools, they love their public schools,” said Kendall Pace, board president, from at a watch party at the Cover 3 sports bar, near district headquarters, where 50 bond supporters, including some trustees, gathered. “It’s a great feeling that the city believes in the public good. This process was better devised and more transparent.”

The wide-margin approval was a stark difference from the 2013 district bond results, when two of four propositions failed, and those that passed did so narrowly. Nearly twice as many voters cast ballots on Tuesday as did in the 2013 bond election, which was held in May.

District leaders say the passage of the bonds will not increase the tax rate, but taxpayers will still see rising property tax bills. District leaders are banking on increased property values, issuing the bonds as debt is paid down and getting low interest rates, to keep the tax rate flat.

Construction could begin as early as the fall of 2018.

Opponents criticized the bond for a lack of equity, particularly in how money would be invested in East Austin, called for greater transparency on the bond’s tax impact and questioned the need for new schools as the district’s enrollment continues to dwindle.

Don Zimmerman, who leads the Travis County Taxpayers’ Union, which opposed the bond, said homeowners should be prepared for rising property tax bills.

“Of course we are greatly disappointed that taxpayers will not show up to vote and defend both themselves and the people least able to shoulder the crushing tax load,” Zimmerman said.

Ken Zarifis, president of the pro-bond labor group Education Austin, said the entire bond process was better.

“There are clearly things we have to do as a district to be inclusive and address equity, but it was very gratifying to see the support for this bond,” Zarifis said. “The kids are going to get a lot of things they need.”

Zarifis called the 2013 bond election a wake up call to the district and pointed to the lack of trust in the district’s leadership as a reason for the failures.

“People have greater faith in AISD today than they had in 2013,” he said. “Hitting 70 percent or above has to show a trust in the leadership … that didn’t exist four years ago. We’re in a better place than we were four years ago. But I don’t want this to be an overconfidence. There’s still a lot of work and a lot of bridges that need to be built.”

Drew Scheberle, senior vice president at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said passage of the bond will help the Austin school district “right size and create far more 21st century learning spaces.”

“Because Austin ISD has strong financial management, we feel confident this will also minimize the financial impact of the bond on property owners,” Scheberle said. “The kids will win.”

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