In 2008, Austin voters passed a $32 million bond proposition to buy land for a new high school in South Austin. Nearly 10 years later, that promise has not been met. In our time working together on the Austin ISD board representing the two corners of South Austin, we have been focused on completing that promise for the purchase of land as expediently as possible. We have carefully reviewed the needs of South Austin and weighed all available options.
With all of those considerations in mind, the district is proceeding with the purchase of land parcels in southeast Austin for a future high school — and in southwest Austin to facilitate the immediate expansion and modernization of the Bowie campus. The bond will be satisfied with the land purchase in southeast Austin, and we strongly advocate that the remaining bond funds be used to satisfy the will of the voters and be allocated to transforming Bowie into a campus that meets the needs of its students — now and in the future.
A significant factor in these decisions has been careful examination of our current and projected enrollments. At this time, both Bowie and Akins High Schools are significantly overenrolled. Development in southeast Austin will continue to be sizable with projects like Goodnight Ranch bringing nearly 3,800 housing units to the Akins attendance area. This addition will necessitate the creation of a new high school in the future. It’s important to note that the last Austin ISD investment for a new high school east of Interstate 35 occurred over 43 years ago with the construction of LBJ. That was preceded by Reagan High School 52 years ago and Eastside Memorial 57 years ago.
In southwest Austin, growth will be far more modest with a few remaining small pockets of possible development scattered among large swaths of environmentally sensitive preserved land. Bowie is currently overenrolled beyond its stated capacity by 435 students. It also serves 434 transfer students from other high school attendance areas. Changes to the Austin ISD transfer policy that will take effect in the coming year will sharply reduce the number of transfers to overenrolled campuses and subsequently will bring down enrollment numbers at Bowie. With better control over transfer numbers and allowances for all possible future growth, Bowie is projected to reach a maximum size of 3,145 students, which is 247 students above the current enrollment.
When we speak to parents who have students currently enrolled in or recently graduated from Bowie, their concerns are not always about overcrowding. Many times we hear about the state of the facilities and the limitations in being able to provide a modern, appropriate learning environment for our students. It’s also clear that the Bowie community loves the benefits that a large school offers: robust academic offerings, powerhouse athletics, tremendous fine arts programming and a wide range of extracurricular opportunities.
The anticipated expansion and modernization of the Bowie campus will preserve the great benefits of being a large school that the community embraces. It will also ensure that Bowie has the additional space, capacity, facilities and full modernization that our students deserve. This strategic approach aims to allow for an immediate investment at Bowie, precluding the need for a future bond election for design and construction dollars. It demonstrates a commitment to fiscal responsibility — as well as good stewardship of the land — and the upholding our local community values of environmental protection and responsible growth.
Our collective vision for South Austin includes investing in high school campuses as quickly as needed, which will inspire our students and provide 21st-century learning and technology opportunities. This plan, if accepted by the rest of the Board of Trustees, is not an alternative to buying land for a new high school in southwest Austin. This plan is better for current students because they will receive relief sooner. This plan is better for future students because it ensures continued great programming. This plan is better for the environment and better financially because it eliminates the need for an additional high school over the sensitive areas and the additional costs for construction and staffing.
We have more details to discuss in a public meeting, and many conversations with stakeholders and families throughout South Austin, but we are excited to bring this solution to the board and to finally fulfill the promise of the 2008 bond.
Saldaña is vice president of the Austin ISD Board of Trustees. Wagner is the District 7 trustee.