The third and final Athens Independent School District community forum, held Tuesday at South Athens Elementary, raised questions about finances and the practical application of realigning students. At issue is a multi-million dollar bond aimed to upgrade district facilities.

AISD Business Manager Randy Jones — who has been called upon to explain the financial terms of the proposal — was on the hot seat more than in previous meetings.

Among those questions, he was asked to clarify the tax implications of the bond proposal — which could run in the neighborhood of $30 million to $35 million. He also was asked about the possibility of increased costs that would come along with expanding facilities.

“I believe it to be true that we will save money through energy savings and not having the expenses of upkeep for the older schools,” he said. “I do think that we will, of course, need to be good stewards of what we have.”

As has been the case in two previous meetings, held at Bel Air last week and R.C. Fisher Monday, officials offered a 45-minute presentation regarding the district’s long-range facilities plan.

That plan, called “The 2020 Master Facilities Plan,” calls for a new elementary school to be built at the site of R.C. Fisher. That campus would become kindergarten thro-ugh third grade. South Athens and Bel Air also would become kindergarten through third-grade campuses.

South Athens would house pre-kindergarten, as well. Athens Intermediate would remain a fourth- and fifth-grade campus, Athens Middle School would have a wing added for sixth graders (who currently attend Fisher) and the high school would remain 9th through 12th grade.

AISD Assistant Superintendent Mike Green said the No. 1 goal for the bond was security and safety. He also said that in 2005, the cheapest bond being considered was $36 million dollars.

“There was even one as high as $60 million,” he said.

A written question asked why only one option to alleviate campus crowding is being considered.

“It is all or nothing. If someone likes one part of the bond and not another you could lose votes,” the questioner stated.

Board of Trustees President David Freeman said initially two bond packages were considered, but that the current proposal has a better chance of passing.

More questions were brought up concerning the practicality of realignment — namely, how the district will decide to divide elementary students among three campuses.

“Is the R.C. Fisher campus going to provide the best racial diversity?” an audience member asked.

Green said the district would use a “very sophisticated software program” to draw the lines. He also said a demographer would be employed to study the size, growth, density and distribution of the area, and input from a zoning advisory committee would also be called on to contribute.

“The best-case scenario would be Bel Air, South and Fisher would all have exactly 387 students if we opened it today,” Green said. “That would be K through three. If you went along ethnic lines, each one would have two Asians, 55 blacks, 134 Hispanics and 196 whites.”

Hayes said he thinks there is a misconception that “all of our African Americans live in one area.”

“If you look at our graph of where the buses pick up students you’ll see that our African Americans live all over this district,” Hayes said. “Our Hispanics live all over this district. There are pockets of concentration — yes — it’s not the same as it was in 1982 when there were distinct neighborhoods of just African Americans or just Hispanics. The population has changed in its diversity throughout the district.”

Hayes said work on zoning and alignment is set for January. He added that a recommendation about the alignment will be made to the board in February.

The Power Point presentation from Tuesday’s forum, along with audio, will be uploaded on the district’s Web site in the coming days at www.athensisd.net.

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