Worried about the public’s appetite for big-dollar bond packages, local officials are putting their heads together to keep any one hefty proposal from becoming another’s competition.
This has traditionally been a safe bet, with Austin voters having approved every bond election and tax increase put before them in recent memory. But the wish list could be long: an urban rail system, a medical school, school construction initiatives and possibly even a new civil courthouse, along with the mix of civic projects that the city plans to put before voters this November.
The Austin school district could put two proposals before voters in 2013: a $350 million to $500 million bond election in May and a November tax rate increase that would need voter approval and would go mainly to giving teachers raises and restoring funding for a pre-kindergarten program, district officials said.
After raising taxes to the highest amount allowable in 2008, the school district needs voter approval to raise the rate any further.
School officials said holding two elections in 2013 is just a hypothetical projection but not out of the question when state law prevents them from raising revenue without voter approval and inflation alone costs between $15 million and $17 million a year.
“I’d say that the odds are very high that at least one of these will happen in 2013,” school board President Mark Williams said.
Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley-Abram has recommended that the district move forward with the bond election. The district’s buildings are more than 40 years old on average, and the district is growing by about 1,000 students a year, according to district officials.
Conley-Abram said the district might not have to raise its tax rate to cover any bonds because of low interest rates and the retiring of some district debt.
Williams said an election to raise the operations rate could be a tougher call; of the $29.5 million it would generate, the district would get to keep only $17.4 million because of state school funding laws.
Conley-Abram said such an election may be the district’s only alternative to major cuts if the Legislature further tightens education spending. “There really isn’t a lot of other ways to do it without cutting programs that are really important to people. It really is about Austin deciding what those priorities are,” she said.