Just over one percent of registered Travis County voters have cast a ballot in the May election so far. Early voting began Monday. The big item on the ballot is the Austin Independent School District’s bond.
Most of Austin ISD's $892 million in bond proposals would put money towards repairs and construction in schools district-wide. But Proposition 4 would allocate $168 million dollars towards academics and athletics, along with facility upgrades to implement those programs.
That includes money for a Career and Technical Education program that would partner with the incoming University of Texas Medical School in Austin. It would serve students who want to become doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians or work in other medical related careers.
“We put money in there so if an opportunity came forward or came to fruition we’d actually be able to participate," said Carolyn Merit, a member of the Citizens Bond Advisory Committee. "Otherwise, UT would say, 'We’d like to do a high school but we would have no capitol funds to do it.'"
The district would set aside $12 million for the program. Committee member John Blazier says he hopes that within two years the district will begin constructing the school near the medical center.
“One of our largest employers is Seton Medical System and right behind it is St. David’s," Blazier said. "These are great jobs, high paying, medical benefits. This is a series of career pathways that we’re going to put more time and money into."
But the timeline to begin construction for many projects is undetermined. Jeff Kauffmann with AISD’s facilities department says the district is still creating a final implementation plan. He says one of the first priorities is to improve the two schools for students with disabilities: Clifton and Rosedale.
“We’ve got parts of those buildings that aren’t ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. They meet code, but we wouldn’t be able to build that building the way it was built, today," Kauffmann said.
More than $10 million would be used to widen hallways to create more space for wheelchairs and build more personal hygiene facilities for some special education students.
But the majority of the bond proposition is for fine arts and athletics.
About $25 million is slated to construct new theaters and improve existing ones for band, orchestra and drama. A large portion would also go toward athletic facilities, from fields to locker rooms — mostly in high schools.
Elementary school parent Renee Welsh says she’s frustrated high schools are getting most of the money.
“I’m not saying they don’t need to upgrade their facilities, but if you go out and look in the back and look at our track it’s falling apart. Our kids need this stuff too or they at least need a safe place to play," Welsh said after a PTA meeting earlier this month.
AISD’s Kauffmann said the district focused on high schools because they have the largest populations and the most competitive sports.
At community meetings, some parents have questioned whether the district needs to borrow such a large amount of money with these bonds. Bond Advisory Committee member John Blazier said it’s important for the district to remain appealing to students as charter and private schools increase their presence in the region.
“We are on a competitive playing field today and if public education is going to survive, we want to have the middle class, we want gifted students - because students learn from students - and we want a good cross-section and we want a competitive opportunity for our students," Blazier said.
The rest of Proposition Four would go toward outfitting the old Anderson campus for AISD’s School for Young Men.
Early voting runs through May 7. Election Day is May 11.