Austin ISD Bond Proposal Shakes Up Eastside Schools

Sep 20, 2017

Austin Independent School District is asking voters to approve a $1 billion bond that would bring major changes to East Austin schools. 

The bond, which voters will decide on in November, is the district’s largest bond proposal ever. If voters approve it, every school would get money for building and technology improvements.

"We want to make sure that as [Austin changes] we are also being responsive," AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz said.  

A few things prompted the district to propose the bond now.

A portion of AISD’s tax money is redistributed by the state to other, less wealthy districts. And as home values increase in Austin, that extra revenue from property taxes doesn’t all stay here, either. 

But bond dollars aren’t collected by the state, so the entire $1 billion would go to the city’s public schools.

Cruz said the district felt it was a good time to address issues around crowded and under-enrolled schools.

“We looked at overcrowding, … we looked at the facility condition, and we looked at program pieces across the entire district," Cruz said, to prioritize 16 schools for renovations. He called those schools "phase 1."

Many of the schools that are in North and South Austin are getting renovations to accommodate overcrowding. On the Eastside, the bond proposes a big shake up.

The High School Shuffle

The bond proposes relocating some Eastside high schools (and their students) to address capacity issues. 

The first major move would be to relocate Eastside Memorial, near highway 183, west to the old Anderson High School in Central East Austin. Eastside is under-enrolled in its current location, with only 50 percent of the students it was built to accommodate.

The bond would pay for a total renovation of Anderson, including state-of-the-art facilities for various programs. 

The second big change is moving the Liberal Arts and Science Academy from LBJ High School to Eastside's current building. LASA currently takes up the second floor of LBJ, but demand for the magnet school forced the district to find more space for it.

"There is a lot of … wanting to attend LASA," said Edmund Oropez, AISD's chief officer for teaching and learning. "It’s a great high school, one of the best in the country. So, there is a demand for more seats there, and we are currently out of capacity at LBJ.”

The district hopes by moving LASA, hundreds more student will be able to enroll. It would also be in a more central location. Right now, LASA is on the Northeast side of the city, but as a magnet school, has students coming from all over Austin. 

LBJ High would stay in its current location, but with LASA gone, it would have more room to grow.

Designed For Learning

Save East Austin Schools, which opposes the moves, advocates for renovating the existing buildings and not shuffling the campuses around.

Some of the buildings are more than 50 years old, however, so the district says it’s time for a new start. It said renovations would allow new spaces designed specifically for academic programs.

For example, Eastside Memorial has a health science program where students can get certified in jobs as nursing or medical assistants. Right now, the skills lab they learn in looks like any other classroom — it just has a few pieces of medical equipment. The health sciences room in a renovated Anderson building would be designed to house this program and hopefully expand to prepare students for nursing or medical degrees in college.

Eastside's health sciences lab looks like any other classroom, but with a few pieces of medical equipment. The AISD bond proposes renovating spaces designed specifically for these types of programs.
Credit Martin do Nascimento / KUT

If the bond passes, programs like this across the district could get better equipment. 

"We definitely would be looking for if the bond passes would be more skills labs," said Sanford Jeames, head of the health science program at Eastside. "We also are looking forward to perhaps having more interactive and simulation mannequins."

The district hopes new facilities and better programs will attract more students to under-enrolled schools on the Eastside.

Voting "yes" on the bond doesn’t mean a tax increase. Through some accounting tricks, selling some district land and school consolidations, the district says it can avoid hiking taxes. But taxpayers won’t see their bills go down, either.