The Name is Bond, AISD Bond

Sarah Garrett, Staff Writer

The Austin Independent School District (AISD) is in the preparation stages of a new 2022 bond, a package of money set to focus on equity for the district. According to AISD, they’re looking toward past bonds to plan the 2022 bond. The bond issued in 2017 was focused on modernizing campuses, improving overcrowding issues at campuses, and improving technology for students and teachers. Said bond has benefitted campuses all throughout Austin, according to Michelle Wallis, the executive director of the Office of Innovation and Development. She feels that the 2017 bond was able to improve student’s learning environments. 

“I think everyone acknowledges there’s still a lot of work to do on particular facilities improvements, but there are a lot of projects that have been implemented as a result of that bond that I think improve the environment in which students learn,” Wallis said. “I think great teachers are teaching in all kinds of facilities all over the state. It’s really neat to see in some of the facilities that have been most recently renovated or constructed, how thoughtfully they’re designed with the different ways that teachers can teach more collaboratively.”

Before a new bond can exist, though, some planning has to take place, according to AISD Board of Trustees member Kristin Ashy. Ashy said that bonds are able to upgrade buildings, buses, and technology. Currently, AISD members are working on a Long Range Facilities Plan that would update the current 2017 bond in place, working to modernize schools across Austin. 

“There’s actually not a bond that has been called at this point,” Ashy said. “Where we are in the process is we are working on what’s called long range planning, our long range plan process, as we consider our facilities, as well as our transportation, as well as technology.”

Ashy is one of nine trustees and seven representatives for a single-member district. Part of her job is to work with the Long Range Planning Committee and use that information to benefit AISD. 

“That’s what my job is as a member of the Board of Trustees: to look at the recommendations that come from this Long Range Planning Committee, and decide if that is where we want to be looking for our district to go, as it pertains to those three entities to facilities to transportation and technology,” Ashy said. 

Jacob Reach, the AISD chief of Government Relations and Board Services, also works with the Board of Trustees. Part of his job is to work with the district and the Board of Trustees to ensure that they are connected with AISD campuses and district activities, according to Reach.

My first most important role is being a liaison between our Board of Trustees in the district to ensure that we’re connecting them with our campuses and with district activities, that we’re prepared for our board meetings, and any of the legally required activities that our board of trustees are taking every year,” Reach said. “A big part of that, of course, is working with our staff to ensure that we’re getting information back to our counties, so that they have the information that they need to write their governance story.” 

The other part of Reach’s job is involved with the state legal and governmental services. Reach predicts that Texas’s redistricting will affect AISD’s Board of Trustees. AISD districts have historically been broken into seven, with elected officials representing each district. However, AISD is now redrawing districts in response to new districts being drawn by congressional and house seats, according to Community Impact newspaper.

“When people think of boundaries, the first thing they think of is what’s the school that you attend based off of where you live, and that is certainly a boundary, but that’s not what redistricting is dealing with,” Reach said. “Redistricting is focused on elected officials, with the overall goal of ensuring that people of a community both have a say in the governance of whatever governmental group we’re talking about. In this case, a school district.”

Currently, the Board of Trustees is hoping to complete the redistricting process by June 2022. Though redistricting doesn’t affect what school a student will attend, it can affect school districts in a variety of other ways, such as student population or budgets, according to Reach. 

“What we’re doing here with our redistricting for Austin ISD is we’re doing the boundaries of who elects the trustees,” Reach said. “We’d be looking at just those single member districts because those largest trustees are district wide.”

Until new boundaries are decided, Ashy says that there will continue to be nine AISD Board of Directors (seven single district members and two at-large positions) who oversee the district as a whole. And although she believes that the process of redistricting and creating new bonds can be extensive, she believes it is worth it.

“I believe that education is the door for most people to do different things or to try new things,” Ashy said. “Educating yourself on the topic is the door to those opportunities. And so I’ve always been a big believer, and I think public education is free and public education is a cornerstone of our country.”