General Bond FAQ
What is the total amount of the 2017 Bond?
What kind of projects are included in the 2017 Bond?
In April 2017, the Austin ISD Board of Trustees approved the Facility Master Plan, which identified about $4 billion in facilities needs that currently exist across the district. Needs include modernizing and renovating the district’s campuses and other facilities, building additional schools and other capital projects.
From the FMP, projects were selected to be included in the bond, taking into account school needs based on an extensive, two-year community engagement process involving 38 Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee meetings, more than 5,000 individual pieces of input and 500 engagement opportunities.
Key projects in the voter-approved bond include:
- Constructing 17 new or modernized campus facilities;
- Improvements to address overcrowding and critical needs; and,
- Districtwide improvements to technology for teachers and students and transportation.
The priorities identified in the bond are designed to be prudent, responsible investments to enable 21st-century learning for a new generation of students. While the FMP identified nearly $4 billion in needed repairs and upgrades, the district asked voters for $1.05 billion because it is within the district’s ability to fund improvements and repay the bonds without a tax rate increase.
Which schools benefit from this bond program?
All Austin ISD schools will benefit from the 2017 Bond Program.
Districtwide projects in the bond program include:
- Technology systems and equipment for all schools, which may include student mobile computers, computer lab improvements, network upgrades, presentation systems and teacher laptops;
- Safety and security systems and equipment, which may include security cameras and security systems, updates to fire alarm systems, network system improvements to update all network equipment throughout the district, and cameras to cover special education areas at a family’s request;
- Replacement buses to transport 22,000 students each day, ensuring they can continue to get to school and back home safely; and,
- Improvements to campuses that serve students from across the district, including rebuilding Rosedale School to support the district’s most medically fragile students.
What is the difference between a “Modernization Project” and “Critical Facility Deficiency Project”?
A “modernization project” or “comprehensive invention project” is a project meant to address all the needs of a facility (deficiencies, educational suitability, capacity, etc.) in one large project that seeks to modernize the school to be in line with the new Austin ISD Educational Specifications.
“Critical facility deficiency projects” are projects that address deficiencies at facilities, which were deemed of critical importance. These are life safety issues such as dangerous electrical, structural issues or flooding and other concerns from heating and cooling to deteriorated parking.
Since voters have approved bond dollars for specific projects, are those projects allowed to change?
The projects shouldn’t change, but the amounts allocated to each may vary.
I’ve heard that a Campus Planning Team (CAT) has been created at my school. What is that? Who is part of the team and how were they selected?
A Campus Architectural Team has been established for each modernization project included in the 2017 Bond. The CAT is responsible for providing community input during planning, design, and construction as we seek to modernize the facility and shape the environment for 21st century learning. The designated design team will meet regularly with the CAT throughout each phase of a given project, from initial planning through design, construction and finally the opening of the modernized facility.
CATs are made up of approximately nine to 10 members of that school’s community and are selected by the principal and AISD leadership.
When will construction begin on bond projects? When will it end?
I’ve heard AISD say this bond will not raise my property tax rate. How is that possible?
First and foremost, it’s important to know that Austin ISD didn’t borrow the total amount of the bond on Day 1. Instead, we have a borrow-and-repay-as-we-go financial model, much like a credit card. The bond is like increasing our credit limit, but it doesn’t mean we’ll be borrowing all the money right away. We’ll borrow and pay off the debt as we go.
In addition to bond money, we’re also leveraging the following resources to support this process:
- 2008 and 2013 available bond dollars
- Planned land and facility sales
- Campus mergers to balance population shifts
The school district has actually lowered the tax rate by five cents since the 2013 bond. We did this by paying off existing debts, refinancing for better rates and taking advantage of an expanding tax base. That said, the popularity of the Austin market has driven up home prices, so it masks the gains our trustees and school system have made on behalf of taxpayers.
The 2017 Bond will not increase the tax rate for our community based on assumptions used by the district’s staff. We’ve designed it to leverage a number of district assets to keep the bond in line with the district’s ability to repay.
Over the past few years, we’ve experienced a slight decline in enrollment. Experts like the city of Austin’s demographer tell us this has as much to do with affordability issues in Austin’s central city as with anything. People are moving to the outer edges of the city to try and cope with Austin’s overall rising market costs. That shows up in the fact that more than 10 of our schools at the edges of the district are overcrowded.
How much contingency funding remains in the district’s most recent bond funding from 2013? What is the plan to spend those remaining contingency funds?
Austin ISD voters approved $489.7 million in the 2013 bond. Approximately $20 million in contingency funding remains unspent to date.
Contingency funding represents money set aside to ensure sufficient funding exists to complete all of the 2013 bond projects. These are the available bond dollars referenced in the answer above that have been determined to be available to support the 2017 Bond Program.
How have shifting populations affected the district?
Over the past few years, we’ve experienced a slight decline in enrollment. Experts, like the City of Austin’s demographer, tell us this has as much to do with affordability issues in Austin’s central city as with anything.
People are moving to the outer edges of the city to try and cope with Austin’s overall rising market costs. That shows up in the fact that more than 10 of our schools at the edges of the district are overcrowded.
With enrollment declining, why would AISD need any new schools?
When comparing the district’s 2016 enrollment figure to the number from the same time in 2015, Austin ISD saw a 0.65 percent decrease in the total number of students, but it’s a complex picture. Many schools on the outer edges of our district are severely overcrowded as families have moved because of real estate affordability.
Additionally, most of the new schools are actually replacements, tear-downs and rebuilds. With the average age of our facilities exceeding 40 years, some are beginning to experience structural damage that can no longer be patched.
Addressing structural needs now can help the district avoid spending more money on Band-Aid fixes in the future.
How was the list of projects and the amount of the bond determined?
The amount of the bond and the project list were determined through an extensive, two-year community engagement process, where we asked the community about their schools need.
This was a deliberate process involving 38 Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee (FABPAC) meetings, more than 5,000 individual pieces of input to date and 500 engagement opportunities. The priorities identified in the bond are designed to be prudent, responsible investments to enable 21st-century learning for a new generation of students.
Our Facility Master Plan identified nearly $4 billion in needed repairs and upgrades that currently exist in the district. We asked voters for $1.05 billion because it is within the district’s ability to fund improvements on the Facility Master Plan and repay the bonds without a tax rate increase.
In the FMP, 52 of our schools were assessed by experts as being in “Poor” or “Very Poor” condition. Another 26 were categorized as being in “Unsatisfactory” or “Very Unsatisfactory” condition. One of our schools, Pease Elementary, is 141 years old.
Today’s students require 21st-century learning environments that include bright, collaborative spaces, state-of-the-art technology, outdoor classrooms and community spaces.
Why does the Facility Master Plan say my school will get something in years 1-6, but the project was not included in the bond? Will that work still be done?
The priorities identified in the bond are designed to be prudent, responsible investments to enable 21st-century learning for a new generation of students. While the Facility Master Plan identified nearly $4 billion in needed repairs and upgrades, the district asked voters for $1.05 billion because it is within the district’s ability to fund improvements and repay the bonds without a tax rate increase.
Bond dollars can only be spent on initiatives or programs explicitly identified in the bond proposition. Any projects not included in the 2017 bond will need to be addressed with future bonds or alternative sources of funding.
The 2017 bond can’t do everything, but it is an important first step that allows the district to make critical improvements without raising the tax rate.
What is the difference between bond dollars and Austin ISD’s operating budget?
When voters passed the 2017 Bond, they gave Austin ISD permission to sell bonds to fund capital projects, such as construction of new buildings, facility renovations and other improvements.
Bond dollars are not part of the district’s operating budget; they cannot be spent on any initiative or program that was not explicitly identified in the bond proposition, such as teacher salaries.
Additionally, bond dollars are not subject to recapture. Recapture, or “Robin Hood” is a state law that requires AISD to send approximately half a billion dollars to the state each fiscal year out of its operating budget. Bond dollars are $1 for $1 investment in Austin; the state can’t take bond dollars as part of recapture.
Where can I find more information about projects specific to my school(s)?
The bond website, AISDFuture.com, is the best place to find information about any projects included in the bond.
What will happen to the trees on our school’s existing site?
The district is working closely with an arborist to support planning for all 2017 Bond projects. Trees are important to AISD, and can be a resource for outdoor learning, sustainability goals and energy savings.
Throughout the design process at each campus, trees are assessed and considered when making design decisions. During construction, a tree protection plan will be implemented. Please note, trees on each project sites will be tagged based on the tree protection plan, but the presence of such a tag does not necessarily mean a tree will be removed.
The district seeks to preserve trees as much as possible while implementing the goals of each project.
Although my school isn’t one of the comprehensive modernization projects in this bond, when will general improvements begin?
The construction timeline is different for each project, but many districtwide improvements are already underway.
For example, new buses were ordered in February 2018 to ensure students can continue to get to school and back home safely, and technology upgrades are being rolled out as well.
My school did not receive a modernization project in this bond. When will we receive one?
The Facility Master Plan is a long-term, strategic plan adopted in 2014 that looks at the district’s needs over a span of 25 years; it is a living document that will be reviewed every two years.
The Austin ISD community is currently collaborating to update the FMP to support the district’s vision to Reinvent the Urban School Experience. It will guide the development of future capital improvements and support planning for future bond elections to fund modernization projects not addressed in the 2017 Bond.
My school did not receive a modernization, how is safety being considered for all other schools?
Every school will receive safety and security upgrades through the 2017 Bond Program, including upgrades to the district’s security and life safety systems. Bond funds also included districtwide communication upgrades for AISD officers and a records management system for the police department.
The Board of Trustees and administration also invested an additional $1.7 million in the 2018-2019 school year’s operational budget specifically for safety, including hiring six additional officers (one of which focuses on mental health), adding an emergency management staff member and upgrading the campus visitors check in system. The district also received a grant to provide an additional mental health officer, in addition to the one authorized by the Board of Trustees.
AISD also hosted two 40-hour professional trainings on mental health during summer 2018 thanks to a $45,000 grant.
Our main priority is to have safe and secure schools where all students and staff are welcome and protected. The best way for parents or citizens to get involved is to speak with your children. If you see something or hear something, say something. It’s a collaborative effort to keep campuses safe.
What security improvements are planned for the new or modernized schools?
With 2017 bond funds, AISD is able to build modernized campuses for our students that will include the latest design features for student safety. The construction and facility teams have brought in the AISD police department to help plan and guide safety designs within our new construction campuses, including elements such as secured entry vestibules and extended sight lines that allow for better monitoring of campus visitors.
What information can you share on safeguards planned for the new schools to protect students and teachers?
AISD is implementing national best practices for safety in all of the school modernization designs, as well as in our operational planning. As a practice, we do not share specifics on security to help ensure that our systems can’t be intentionally comprised.
All planning is taking place in collaboration with the AISD Police Department, who oversee safety in our schools. Generally, as far as designs go, this includes the ability to control and monitor access to the campus and buildings (cameras, sight lines, alarms), and the ability to control access during operations and emergencies (door lock controls, security doors/gates, etc.). It also includes designing for more common threats such as bullying and the presence of dangerous or harmful substances.
Who does the district collaborate with to promote safety on our campuses?
AISD’s Police Department actively collaborates with local, state and federal law enforcement and emergency management officials to address man-made threats and weather-related issues. Also, the district works closely with agencies such as Child Protective Services and mental health organizations to address individual student needs.
What’s the bottom line, the one thing you want the Austin community to know about the 2017 Bond Program?
Austin ISD needs to address facility deficiencies and create 21st-century learning spaces designed to meet the needs of the current and next generation of students.
The voter-approved 2017 Bond Program can’t do everything, but it is an important first step that allows the district to make critical improvements without a tax rate increase.