Education
12:40 pm
Mon April 29, 2013

AISD Bonds: Money Aims to Relieve Overcrowding

Early voting for the Austin Independent School District $892 million bond begins Monday. The bond is split into four propositions, based on a variety of projects from systemic repairs to improvements to relieve overcrowding. 

AISD says enrollment has grown by about 1,000 students per year, two to three times faster than the state average. The district is hoping to relieve some of the overcrowding that's come with that growth. Prop 2 would borrow $234 million to do that. Some of it goes toward school security, but most of the money is earmarked for expanding existing schools and building new ones. 

"Some things will be the main driver, in a community where we have gross over-enrollment and lots of pressures on buildings," says Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. “Buildings built for 500 kids but have 800 kids in them will clearly get first priority, and we already have some ‘step-by-steps’ that have to happen immediately."

Carstarphen says the challenge is keeping up with where people move in Austin.

"It's typical that there's a housing concentration, and to serve that population we have to bring education to them," she said at a community meeting earlier this month.

In order to address the needs of overpopulated areas, the school district is allocating money in the bond for three new schools – but the district won't decide the location of each school until it's needed.

"We can be strategic at the right time, in the right moment with the right population changes, so we don't build them until we actually need them," Carstarphen says. She says that ensures the district doesn't exacerbate the overcrowding problem.

Some of the money would also go toward expanding existing schools. Five elementary schools and two middle schools will receive somewhere between eight and 13 new classrooms each. Murchison Middle School is slated for a 13-classroom addition.

Principal Sammi Harrison says most of the proposed improvements at her school won't change day-to-day operations. "I'm still going to have portable city,” he says. “I'm still going to have kids who have to walk back and forth in the rain."

In the past, AISD has tried to fix the overcrowding problem by adding portables on school campuses. Right now there's an average of six portables per campus in the district. The district roughly estimates the additions in the bond would reduce the number of portables by 13 percent. 

Prop 2 also allocates $8 million for a feasibility and design plan for a new high school in South Austin – another area of the city dealing with overcrowding. The money would only be used to design a school, not provide money to construct the actual building. Officials are still deciding whether to put special programs in the school, like dual language or career and technical classes. Some parents think the district needs to make those decisions soon.

"It's frustrating to hear them waver back and forth about what kind of high school it might be when we just need another one. They need to figure it out and just do it," says Mills Elementary School parent Renee Welsh. 

The bond also includes money to expand cafeterias, administrative offices and gymnasiums at some schools.

Murchison Middle School Principal Sammi Harrison says any expansion at her school's cafeteria would be a big help.

"If I didn't have about 40 percent of my kids bring their lunch every day, we wouldn't have them fed in 30 minutes,” he says. “They wouldn't get through the line."

Early voting runs through May 7. The election is Saturday, May 11. For more on the four propositions, here’s an AISD sample ballot.