AUSTIN -- On May 11, Austin voters will decide whether to fund nearly a billion dollars worth of bonds for school capital improvements. The KVUE Defenders found just a small number of voters are likely to decide the big expense. Critics believe that's what the district wants.
On the ballot, voters will decide whether to allow the district to issue more than $890 million worth of bonds to fund long-term capital projects like expansions and new schools. Property taxes would increase to pay for it. On a $200,000 home for example, taxes would increase $70 a year.
"This is nonsense. This is just a bad practice that needs to end," said Roger Falk is with the Travis County Taxpayers Union. It's a watchdog organization that tracks government spending, waste and abuse.
Falk says he believes the district picked the May date because it knew fewer voters would turn out. Digging through election results, the KVUE Defenders found less than 10 percent of voters turned out for the past two Austin ISD elections.
About six percent voted in May 2006, and just 2.5 percent cast a ballot 2010. That's less than 10,000 voters, and fewer than those employed by the district.
This past November, 391,708 voters showed up.
By the Numbers:
Nov. 2012 General Election
391,708 out of 635,300 voted.
% of total registered voters: 61.66%
May 8th, 2010 – AISD Election
9,463 out of 374,850 voted
% of total registered voters: 2.52%
May 13, 2006 AISD School board election
46,153 out of 689,431
% of total registered voters: 6.69 %
"It's as close to rigging an election as you can get without putting handcuffs put on your wrists," said Falk.
School board trustee president Vincent Torres disagrees. “I don't think that's true at all because I think if you also look at the number of people that come out to vote, you see a lot of the older citizens regularly, and what you often seen in any election is not a lot of people come out to vote," said Torres.
The trustee also says the district didn't have time to review the capital projects it intended to fund before the 2012 November election.
"We would have been very, very rushed," explained Torres.
Torres also thinks voters would have been too overwhelmed if it placed its bond proposal on the November ballot. At the time, voters were asked to approve about $400 million in bonds from the city of Austin, plus, a tax increase to fund a medical school.
“It is just simply being sensitive to how much can you expect someone to remember about all the items on a ballot," said Torres.
Falk questions whether voters can tolerate another tax increase. "I don't care if you vote for it or against it - vote!" said Falk.
According to Travis County, the school district will pick up the $700,000 tab to hold the bond election.