Taxpayers to vote on nearly $900 million school bond

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by SHANNON MURRAY / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE

Bio | Email | Follow: @ShannonM_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 26 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -  Austin Independent School District is asking voters to approve almost $900 million in school improvements.

The school board voted unanimously to put an $892 million bond package on the May ballot, and this year voters will be able to choose what they support and what they don't want to spend their money on.

Parents like Jerry Norman say it's an easy decision for him.

"The schools have been overcrowded for as long as we can remember," he said.

Norman has two children who went through the Austin school system.

"We had a good experience. Our daughter graduated from Lanier and our son graduated from LBJ Academy," Norman said. "As long as Austin is growing, we're going to need more facilities, we're going to need to shift them around and we're going to have to deal with that."

The bond is broken down into four propositions, allowing people to vote a la carte .

"You want to give voters a choice of what they're going to support," Trustee Robert Schneider said at Monday's meeting.

Voters' choices include:

$349.2 million for facility renovations and repairs

$233.9 million for safety, security and relief from overcrowded schools

$168.6 millions for academic initiatives, fine arts and athletics

$140.6 million for health, environment, equipment and technology

"This is still a growing district; we're still projecting about 800 kids a year," explained AISD Director of Facilities Paul Turner. "Although we do budget money for maintenance, it's just not enough to keep up with all of the maintenance that we have."

If the bond passes, the average homeowner paying $200,000 would add $70 a year to their property taxes.

"You've got to be kidding," said Don Zimmerman with the Travis County Taxpayer's Union. "We just suffered through a 68 percent increase from the hospital district and now in the typical round robin fashion, here comes the school district."

Zimmerman says more money isn't the answer to overcrowded schools.

"If you mismanage money, you will always need more, and you will never be able to give kids a good education if you mismanage the money you have," he said.

Parents like Norman disagree, saying schools are already working with a tight budget.

"It's pretty hard to find any obvious areas of waste in the budget," Norman said.

School officials says it's difficult to give an exact number, but typically a bond in AISD takes around 25 years to pay off. The board is still currently paying off bonds from 2004 and 2008.

For a more detailed breakdown of the bond package, click here.

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