Benefiting from AISD bonds

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on May 7, 2013 at 10:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 8 at 10:34 AM

AUSTIN -- It's a campaign intended to tug at your heart-strings. Mailers and yard signs paint a picture of Austin ISD schools in desperate need of repair. 

One mailer shows a first grader pleading "please vote for me."

These ads all are paid for with contributions made to political action committees to help pass Austin ISD's $890 million bond package to renovate and build new schools.

"I'm grateful that people are willing to give,” said attorney John Blazer. He’s treasurer for Vote for Our Kids, a PAC created to promote the bonds.

According to campaign finance records reviewed by the defenders, Blazer’s PAC raised nearly $60,000 in the past year.

The KVUE Defenders found 58 percent of those donations came from contractors and architects who could possibly benefit from construction projects paid for with the bonds.

"It's not unusual to see that political dynamic," explained Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County Judge. He feels the district rushed the bond process to get it on the May ballot.

Over the past several years, less than ten percent of Austin voters have shown up for May elections.

The KVUE Defenders also found some contractors who donated to the PAC, have benefited from Austin ISD projects in the past.

Pfluger Architects is one of them. According to the architect firm’s website, the school district paid the firm to design Gus Garcia Middle School about five years ago. Construction costs for the projects totaled $26 million.

Over the past few months, campaign finance records show Pfluger Architects contributed $10,000 to Blazer's PAC to convince voters to pass the bonds.

Austin ISD also paid a firm called American Constructors $152,000 to renovate Clint Small Middle School. Records show American Constructors contributed $3,000 to the Vote for our Kids PAC.

Blazer says contractor donations do not guarantee work.

“What's important is that there's no preference. The fact that you give ‘X’, you don’t get work. You still have to compete. You still have to bid competitively, that's what's important,” Blazer said.

Blazer contends many Austin ISD parents cannot afford to donate to campaigns.

Aleshire wonders whether those same parents can afford the property tax increase it will take to pay for the bonds.

“It will take a long time for voters and a lot of money, including for those people who are already struggling to stay in their homes,” Aleshire said.

“They get to vote on that and make that decision,” Blazer said.

If the bond package is passed, property taxes will increase about $70 a year on a $200,000 home.

CORRECTION: This story previously reported that Lake Travis High School was in AISD. It is in Lake Travis ISD. AISD did not pay for Pfluger to design that school. KVUE apologizes and regrets the mistake.

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