Austin schools asking voters for $24 million for pre-K facility

January 18, 2019

AUSTIN — Residents in the Austin Public Schools district will head to the ballot box April 9 to vote on a $24.885 million building bond referendum.

During its meeting Monday night, the school board voted unanimously to set the special election that would fund a new wing to the Woodson Kindergarten Center and add security features to several district buildings, said School Board Chairwoman Carolyn Dube.

“We’ll be moving all those students from our community learning center at Queen of Angels Church, which we’ve been renting for about 10 years, and have a birth through kindergarten center that will focus on early childhood education,” Dube said.

Several factors led the board to this decision, she said. First, the district moved its early childhood programs into Queen of Angels on what was supposed to be a temporary basis. The building is old and, as renters, there is only so much the district can do to upgrade that facility, Dube said.

Second, the new wing at Woodson would allow the district to better implement preschool curriculum that will help prepare children for kindergarten and beyond. “We’re less focused on the child care aspect than the pre-K and early learning,” Dube said.

The decision was made after a task force brought about 30 potential solutions — including buying and renovating buildings such as the former YMCA or Target in Austin. “This is the one that made the most sense,” she said.

Austin Schools Superintendent David Krenz said that the task force included almost 50 parents and community members.

“This gives value and credibility, too, that the school board wants to engage the community in its problem-solving and take that recommendation forward,” Krenz said.

While the school board and the district administration understand that asking taxpayers to shoulder additional costs can be a burden, the task force findings show the need for a new home for child care and pre-K in the district. “It shows we value our younger generations and want to make sure they are prepared for their future,” Krenz said.

That younger generation is growing in the Austin school district, he said. Over the past eight years, the district has grown by about 1,000 students. And over the next decade, Austin Public Schools will see additional growth of 300-500 students.

The new wing at Woodson would go a long way to meeting those future needs with 16 classrooms instead of the 12 at Queen of Angels, plus play spaces for young children and additional gym space, Krenz said. Add to that a waiting list of families looking to enroll in early childhood programs, and demand will only increase.

Between now and the special election, Dube said the district plans to conduct between 50 and 75 presentations with civic groups, churches, nursing homes and other organizations to get the word out about the plan and the need for the new wing at Woodson.

“Our financial team is working to put together the information on the tax implications for the voters,” Dube said. “And there’s been interest in getting the (facility) task force back together to be part of that communication.”

Krenz said he plans to take the facts about the referendum to anyone who wants to hear them.

“Wherever you’re at, I’ll come to you,” Krenz said.