AISD bonds would pay for short-term fixes


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on April 19, 2013 at 12:11 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 19 at 12:21 AM

AUSTIN -- As Jon Baney's home ages, he knows he'll pay for needed repairs. Some needed maintenance includes fixing old doors, windows and replacing his siding.

"We've been doing it over the years as we've had the money for it," Baney said.

While Baney says he'd never take out a second mortgage to pay for the minor maintenance, some say that's basically what Austin ISD wants to do to fund similar expenses.

Next month, Austin voters will decide whether to fund $890 million in bonds to pay for long-term capital projects at Austin ISD, like new schools.

Over the next few years, property taxes would increase to pay for it. The owner of a $200,000 home could pay about $70 more a year if passed.

According to Austin ISD financial records, the bond money would also pay short-term fixes. The KVUE Defenders found bonds paying for items like removing "tree limbs and debris" from roofs; "replacing grass in play areas," and fixing a toilet -- funded with bonds that will take decades to pay off.

Jim Newell, an Austin business owner, disagrees with bonds funding maintenance and operations expenses.

"In the case of Austin ISD, we're spending bond money for expenses which should be covered normally under our operation budgets," said Newell.

While legal, we found not all Texas districts allow it.

On its website, Round Rock ISD's bond policy reads, "operational expenses cannot be paid for with bond money."

Houston ISD's policy explains its bonds "can only be used for the costs associated with construction and renovation of facilities.”

"The repair is often a replacement; it just won't say replacement because it depends exactly what needs to be done," said District Trustee President Vincent Torres.

Torres says some of the items listed as repairs are actually replacement requests.

Plus, he says because state lawmakers reduced district funding, it must find ways to pay for maintaining its campuses.

“This last legislative session, the legislature cut us significantly and we had to eliminate certain operating funds to be able to make certain maintenance and operations repairs," Torres said.