Early voting is underway for the $892 million bond proposal from the Austin Independent School District. The district decided to hold the election in May – as it usually does. But now, the Austin City Council decided to move its general elections from May to November.
With turnout expected to be extremely low, will AISD continue to keep its elections in May?
John Blazier is a member of the district’s Citizens Bond Advisory committee. He says he isn’t ruling out the option to move AISD elections to November
“I think that’s a possibility. I think that’s a decision the board of trustees will have to make at the time," Blazier said.
But, Blazier says, this bond election needs to be in May so voters don’t confuse it with other bond proposals – such as the City of Austin’s bond propositions.
“We would have had even more bonds for the public to choose from," Blazier said. "The advantage is this is the focus of this election, it gives press time to inform the public and we didn’t have additional time. We need to get this done now."
If the city and the school district had bond propositions on the ballot last November, Blazier wonders if voters would have differentiated between the two: “They could have, but would they have, with all of the bonds that were being put forth at that time?”
Don Zimmerman with the Travis County Taxpayers Union says separating the bonds is a way for taxing entities to soften the blow of tax increases.
“Well now it’s going to be the healthcare, next election the city, next election school board, next election the county, so by doing round robin incremental increase on taxes, it’s the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. Taxpayers keep getting hit with gradual tax increases," Zimmerman said.
AISD can’t advocate for or against the bond. But Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says the district tries to educate taxpayers as much as possible leading up to the election.
“For a long time, Austin has had a May and November election time-frame. Who turns out for elections is in the hands of the people," Carstarphen said at a community presentation earlier in April.
But just how many voters will turn out is the question. In the May 2008 AISD bond election, nine percent of voters turned out. That compares to a 65 percent turnout in the November election that year. That was also a presidential election, when turnout is generally at its highest.
Zimmerman says AISD should have put the bond on the November ballot.
“If you want to pass the largest debt increase, the largest school bond in the history of the district, if you want voters to have a say, the only time you should have that election is at a maximum turn out election," Zimmerman said.
Casey Wenmohs is with the Austin Council of PTAs. She says it’s hard to say who benefits from low voter turnout.
“It could mean that fewer parents are able to turn out because of soccer or end of school year events," Wenmohs said.
She says most of the parents she talks to are engaged, but more education about the issues is always needed.
“We have run across instances where parents have heard the school board approves the bond and they don’t realize there’s an election required to pass it," Wenmohs said. "So we still do have a lot of work to do to inform parents and citizens about this election."
Early voting runs through May 7. Election Day is Saturday, May 11.