By law, the Austin Independent School District can’t advocate for or against the $892 million bond it’s proposed to voters. But that doesn’t mean outside groups haven't expressed support or opposition – specifically with their checkbooks.
In its April campaign finance report, the Vote for Our Kids political action committee reported $30,796 in donations for the bond election. Almost all of the contributors are developers and construction companies, as well as private donors affiliated with those trades.
Many of the same companies and individual donors contributed money multiple times, according to a previous campaign finance report filed in January. The PAC reported $30,580 in contributions between Oct. 4, 2012 and December 31, 2012.
The PAC’s campaign treasurer is John Blazier, president of the law firm, Blazier, Christiansen, Bigelow & Virr. He is also a member of the Austin ISD Citizens Bond Advisory Committee. Blazier Elementary School is named after him.
The largest contributions reported in April, $5,000 each, came from the Austin YMCA and Pfluger Associates, L.P, an architecture firm. Other major donors include a variety of building contractors, a library furniture company, and engineering firms. Most of the contributions ranged from $500 to $2,500.
“School bonds historically, part of the funding comes from those contractors that will competitively bid projects, “Blazier says. “They recognize that construction, whether it be for schools or new high rises, provides jobs. And they’ve always been generous in supporting public education.”
Vote for Our Kids spent most of its money on polling and consulting, marketing and logo design. The PAC divided Austin into four pieces by the river and I-35, and met with citizens in all four of those areas.
“We listened to concerns and what they were comfortable in supporting, what we needed to improve on,” Blazier says.
He says the PAC then conducted a citywide poll to determine what the community would support. Some of those concerns were included in the bond, such as improvements to technology and classroom additions. Blazier says the community suggested the location of the additional schools in the bond remain undesignated until it is actually built.
On the other side of the AISD bond debate is the Travis County Taxpayers Union. In April it reported $964, mostly from individual donors. Time Warner Cable donated $98 towards the TCTU.
“Our group has nothing, we’re all volunteers, we rely on small donations from individuals,” TCTU founder Don Zimmerman says.
“It’s difficult for us to raise money because they look at the history of bonds and say ‘the bonds always pass, what’s the use?’ Taxpayers are discouraged,” Zimmerman says.
So far, most of the taxpayers have remained silent regarding the bonds. Early voting started Monday, and as of Wednesday morning, one percent of voters had cast a ballot in the bond election. Early voting runs through May 7. The election is May 11.