Candidates: Students need more space

Austin Public School board candidates are set in their opinions: They all support the upcoming $28.9 million bond referendum for a new fifth- and sixth-grade school and Woodson Kindergarten Center expansion. All candidates say there’s a need for more space in the district, and several candidates served on the Facilities Task Force ,which recommended the referendum. However, one candidate is concerned about the tax impact on the community.

Six candidates are vying for four open board seats, with incumbents Kathy Green and Don Fox looking to keep their seats, and Angie Goetz, Jeff Ollman, Greg Larson and Carol McAlister looking to capture their first school board posts. Each candidate shared their opinions on district issues with the Herald, including their views on the referendum, diversity, technology and more. Read all the candidates’ responses in the Herald on Wednesday.

Herald: One of the issues facing Austin Public Schools is increasing enrollment. District officials have proposed a $28.9 million bond referendum for a new fifth- and sixth-grade school as well as a Woodson Kindergarten Center expansion. Do you support the bond referendum proposal — and why or why not?

Fox

Don Fox: A citizens committee, after working with many different options, they proposed after several months of discussion a 5-6 grade building that would meet the needs of Austin students now and in the future, including classroom space and improved curriculum. In addition, a fifth and sixth-grade building will increase a rigorous gifted and talented curriculum.

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Goetz

Angie Goetz: The numbers speak for themselves. A demographic study indicates that our enrollment in Austin Public Schools may increase by as much as 500 additional students over the next 5 years and by 1,000 over the next 10 years. Woodson Kindergarten Center just used its last available room for another class, Banfield Elementary has a second-grade classroom now meeting in their library, and students at Ellis Middle School are currently sharing lockers.

I will Vote Yes on Nov. 8. I wish I were saying that we need to plan for the future, but the “future” is NOW. We have the choice to build a brand new, state of the art, fifth and sixth-grade building and add six much needed classrooms to Woodson.

If the referendum does not pass, the alternatives that our students will be left with are not nearly as appealing. There will still be additional costs assessed to district property tax-payers.

A quote from the district’s brochure regarding the bond referendum: “The district would have to move some current programs out of the existing schools to free up space. The district would then have to lease space for these programs. These lease costs would directly increase property taxes.”

In other words, we can vote yes, incur a small tax increase, which will be used to fund a new school, new technology and new resources for our students. Or we can vote no and still incur a tax increase that will be used to fund leasing expenses because our schools are out of space. If my taxes are going to increase anyway, I would at least like to see the tax dollars used for something the district will OWN and not RENT. The choice is obvious to me; I will vote YES on Nov. 8.

For homes valued under $150,000, passing the referendum would increase property taxes by roughly $2 to $7 per month. This is a small price to pay for the educational benefits our children will receive.

Green

Kathy Green: I support the proposed bond referendum for a new fifth and sixth-grade intermediate school as well as an expansion at Woodson Kindergarten Center to address the growing school population in Austin. We currently are over capacity in our K-8 schools with projections for continuous growth for five years and beyond. Now is the time to pass the referendum, the problem is only going to grow and the solutions will get more expensive. To spend dollars to rent and renovate spaces as a stopgap is inefficient and wasteful. We have an opportunity now to not only solve the space issue in a comprehensive way but we can also enhance our programming for students throughout the district supporting class size, science, technology and music. The new building will be an investment for the future in terms of school facility infrastructure.

Larson

Greg Larson: I do support the referendum. The Facilities Task Force that was put together of various people from our community came to the conclusion that a new combined fifth and sixth-grade building would be the best option to help reduce the strain on both our elementary and middle school. I believe the past bond issue being paid off and coming off of the tax levy rolls will make it easier to pass the referendum at this time. I personally feel I need to support the referendum, as my two sons benefited from the work that was done from the last one. I have co-workers that have children that are preschool age and in the lower elementary grades. I want to help support the education their children will get, just as people did for mine earlier.

 

McAlister

Carol McAlister: I have great respect for the Community Task Force recommendations and the school board’s approval to place the referendum on the ballot. The enrollment projections prepared by Hazel Reinhart show the need for increased space, but I am concerned about the economic impact of the increased tax burden on the community at this time. Ultimately, the decision of support resides with the voters. I will work diligently to address our enrollment concerns regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

 

Ollman

Jeff Ollman: I support the bond referendum because I believe it is the best option for the district. I have seen the shortage of space firsthand. For example, a Banfield classroom has to be lodged in a portion of the library, and special education teachers have been pushed into more and more inadequate spaces to make rooms available for increasing numbers of students. I attended a work study session of the board that detailed increasing enrollment by 500 students in the next five years and possibly 1000 students by 2020. It appears to me that we are either going to build and own it or spend a large chunk of money to lease and remodel space during the next ten years and beyond.

 

Read all the candidates’ responses to questions about diversity, technology and more in the Herald on Wednesday.

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