Dana Malone expresses frustration that she had voted in 2008 for a comprehensive school to relieve Bowie’s overcrowding. She was applauded when she said: “What are we going to do – put in 100 more portables?”
By Ann Fowler
Austin Independent School District Superintendent Meria Carstarphen brought staff members to a meeting at Bowie High School on April 17 to present the preliminary fiscal year 2013 budget and the 2013-14 facility master plan. The overcrowding at Bowie was touched on but not really addressed.
Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley-Abram presented the budget, while Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Fryer presented the master plan. Questions were taken after each presentation.
For the 2012-13 biennium, the district faces a decrease of $5.3 billion when factors such as enrollment growth and property value decreases are considered. The budget predictions get worse with state cuts and federal revenue losses.
Conley-Abram said district staff compensation has been frozen for the past two years, with teacher salaries lagging 11.3 percent behind Texas urban peers and 3.6 percent behind local peers.
She added that, of more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, Austin is one of perhaps 20 that participate in Social Security. This adds a cost of $33 million to AISD and would take an act of Congress to change.
Recapture — or “Robin Hood” — takes dollars from “property-rich” districts such as Austin and sends that money to “property-poor” districts. From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2013, AISD will have paid $1.6 billion to the state in recapture payments.
Circle C resident Ron Hill said the district could save $11 million if it joined a state health care plan. Dr. Carstarphen said she believed he was looking at old numbers, because the district had actually saved $13 million in health care costs.
In the master plan, Fryer referenced a future South High School that was part of the 2008 bond program. In the master plan it is listed as possibly a comprehensive school (like Bowie) or a specialty (technical) school. Oak Hill residents had hoped a new high school in southwest Austin would relieve overcrowding at Bowie and Austin High.
In fact, local parent Dana Malone expressed frustration that she had voted in 2008 for a comprehensive school to relieve Bowie’s overcrowding. She was applauded when she said: “What are we going to do – put in 100 more portables? Circle C area is huge and not slowing down. They’re building another neighborhood on the other side of 45.”
Dr. Carstarphen said southwest Austin had challenges like impervious cover and the Aquifer. She said, “You’ve got some other interesting issues. So those things tend to slow us up.”
AISD board member and Oak Hill resident Robert Schneider told the Gazette after the meeting that the 2008 bond money was for land only, not construction. He said, “The original motion I made was to add the school for relief in southwest Austin but later agreed to simply having south Austin being the designated area of relief.”
Schneider pointed out that recent data from the district shows a dramatic growth for the schools feeding into Bowie — called a vertical team — over the last five years. For Bowie, that growth is 45 percent, while the Akins vertical team shows 8 percent. The district-wide average is 6 percent.
Schneider suggests Oak Hill residents speak up to affect change. He said: “While messages from organized groups such as neighborhood associations, parent/ teacher associations, campus advisory councils at district schools, business associations, and other community organizations are important, the most forceful impact is simply each individual in the community letting their voices be heard. The AISD board needs to understand that not serving growth in southwest Austin simply because it is in southwest Austin or because of unfounded environmental concerns is simply not acceptable.”
Schneider said the students of southwest Austin are entitled to the same opportunities as students in other parts of the district. He added, “If [AISD is] not willing to do that, then perhaps it is time to start the discussion of other forms of relief that are available under state statue.”
Schneider added that residents should show up at the polls. “School board elections will be on the November 2012 ballot,” he said. “Vote for candidates that will serve the needs of southwest Austin. As long as southwest Austin continues not to turn out at the ballot box and vote for issues and candidates that are important to them, we will continue to have to fight for items such as this rather than relying on good data and good decisions to provide for our community needs.”
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