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Schools waiting on Nov. 8 vote

Austin Public School staff are waiting to find more space for the district, depending on the outcome of the Nov. 8 referendum for $28.9 million for a new fifth and sixth-grade school and a Woodson Kindergarten Center expansion. Whether that means planning for a new school or leasing space and raising class sizes will depend on voters.

“We haven’t done anything at this point,” Mark Stotts, Finance and Operations Director said. District officials don’t want to commit to one course of action until the referendum is decided.

If the referendum fails, district officials would have to find more space fast and the district could have several options. One of those could be incurring more lease costs, which the district can levy for without taxpayers approval. Though taxes would rise, it wouldn’t be as much as the $28.9 million referendum. The district can levy for up to about $752,000 in lease costs and is currently incurring a little more than $300,000 for various leases.

That extra money could be used to pay for a Woodson expansion, as there are about 396 students at Woodson this year and more expected on the way. Woodson officials are using every available space for classrooms this year and any more students would mean class sizes would increase to more than 20 kindergarteners per class.

According to Stotts, if the district chose to levy the extra $400,000 over several years to pay for the Woodson expansion, it wouldn’t be able to lease more property, which wouldn’t solve the district’s increasing elementary enrollment.

Class sizes would definitely go up, though in some schools class sizes are already fit to burst. Teachers are routinely seeing 30 or more students in a class at Ellis Middle School and elementaries are hosting larger-than-average classes as well.

“You have a tendency to have more disciplinary issues (in bigger classes),” Stotts said. “Teachers can’t give one-on-one time as much.”

Several schools are over capacity this year, most notably Woodson, which has 390 students, and Banfield Elementary School, which has about 580 students, 25 more than last year. Southgate Elementary School was over capacity last year and remains at about 537 students.