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Why Austin ISD’s $1.05 Billion Bond Would Not Raise Property Tax Rates

When Austin ISD trustees called a $1.05 billion bond proposal in June, they said it would come with no tax rate increase, leaving some to wonder how that would be possible.

AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson said that is partly because the district would not borrow the funds all at once.

“We would be issuing about a billion dollars over five years,” said Conley Johnson. “Our goal is to manage the tax rate every year by using ‘just-in-time’ debt where we layer in our debt.”

That means the district would pay off existing debt as it takes on new debt at the lowest interest rates possible.

Conley Johnson said the district can only take on so many projects at once—and therefore only spend so much money toward construction—since the district is dependent on construction firms to realize many of the projects in the bond. And there is still no way to know the effect Hurricane Harvey may have on local construction firms if rebuilding is needed in other areas of Texas.

In a typical year, the district may take on about $150 million in debt. With the bond, it might take on about $230 million in debt, she said.

AISD would also need to manage the simultaneous construction projects throughout the district, including maintenance to current facilities.

As AISD’s buildings age, maintenance costs will continue to increase. The average age of an AISD campus is 46 years, with several that are 100 years old.

“I’m not talking about a new building for the sake of being new, but new so that we can build out the things students need to succeed,” said Conley Johnson. “When people start seeing the results of the new schools, we think they’ll let go of the old buildings to continue to do that.” 

The bond is designed to modernize or construct 16 new campus facilities, some of which will be replacement schools. It is also planned to update campuses with capital improvement projects. Some key projects included in the bond proposition are:

  • Districtwide transportation improvements and technology upgrades for teachers and students and transportation,
  • Improvements to address overcrowding and critical needs, and
  • Reinvention programs for 21st-century learning, such as the medical school at LBJ Early College High School.

“My biggest goal is to give kids in the core center the experience of a school that is a utility for learning,” said Conley Johnson. “There’s an equity issue we’re trying to fix in the bond. We can’t have unsafe buildings.”

To see specific projects by campus, please visit https://www.aecomconnect.com/AISD/bondscenario.html. For more information, please visit aisdfuture.com or call 512-414-9595.