DALLAS – Trustees of Austin Independent School District amended its $892.2 million general obligation bond referendum Monday night to include a facilities master plan as a condition for support from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.
The school board pledged it would adopt a master plan by July 2014 to address under-utilization at some facilities, and appointed an oversight committee to monitor projects funded with bond proceeds.
The election on the Austin school district’s largest bond package is set for May 11.
The Chamber withdrew its support of the bond package during Monday’s special board meeting when trustees removed the hard deadline from the resolution but reversed that decision when the board rescinded its earlier vote in favor of the original schedule.
The Chamber “now fully supports” Austin Independent School District’s bond request, said Drew Scheberle, vice president of education for the group.
“We’re enthusiastic that not only are we going to take care of the short-term issues, making sure we make needed repairs to schools, but we’re also taking care of the some longer-term issues to ensure facilities are utilized appropriately over time,” Scheberle said at a news conference following the school board’s reconsideration.
The Chamber conditionally supported the school district’s bond package when it was proposed, but expressed concerns that new schools could be opened when existing facilities were far below capacity.
The Chamber also asked trustees to stipulate that no new schools be built with bond proceeds until overall district-wide facility utilization reaches 95% of capacity, and the district would not build new schools without sufficient funds to operate them.
Technology upgrade funding from the bond package was raised to $85 million by district trustees in February, an increase of $5 million from the original proposal, at the request of the Chamber.
The Chamber board voted unanimously March 28 to unconditionally back the bonds after trustees agreed to adopt a master plan by July 2014 to ensure no new construction until all campuses were at least 65% utilized. The plan would be effective in 2016.
“We trust their word,” said Don Kendrick, the Chamber’s chairman for education, in announcing the decision.
At Monday’s special meeting, trustee Lori Moya objected to the Chamber’s conditions, which she called “blackmail,” and amended the adoption date promise of no later than June 30, 2014 to include “or as soon as possible thereafter.” Moya’s motion to extend the deadline was approved, 8-1.
The removal of a firm schedule was a broken promise, Scheberle said.
“The Chamber of Commerce trusted the board to follow through on what the board had committed to us, and they didn’t,” he said. “If I had known they were going to do this, we wouldn’t have released a statement of support.”
Trustee Cheryl Bradley criticized the Chamber’s reaction to the amended deadline.
“I don’t believe that we should let anyone dictate how we do anything when it comes to this bond,” Bradley said.
“How dare you think that you can come up here and try to twist our arms with some nonsense?” she said. “I just won’t stand for it.”
Trustees then re-voted, and revised the resolution to reinstate the original firm deadline.
Austin Independent School District’s $757 million of outstanding GO debt is rated triple-A by Moody’s Investors Service and AA-plus by Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. The debt is enhanced to triple-A across the board with coverage from the Texas Permanent School Fund.