Will Capital Metro Ever Improve Their Bus Service?

By Bill Oakey – July 12, 2016

Almost on a daily basis, I get pieces of mail intended for car drivers – special offers on auto insurance, credit union offers for low-cost car loans, even actual ignition keys. I’m supposed to take the ignition key to a car dealership to enter a contest. If I put the key in and the car starts up, it’s mine to keep and I can drive it off the lot. Now, that would make an interesting video advertisement for sure – me crashing a brand new car!

So, here’s the bottom line folks. Not everybody can drive a car, because of a wide variety of disabilities. Some people cannot afford their own car. And others have aged beyond the point where it is safe for them to drive. Some prefer to take the bus to work even if they do own a car. For all of those reasons, we need a good bus system that serves our entire community. But Capital Metro has actually gone backwards instead of forward in the direction of an adequate system.

A Mobility Adventure With An Affordability Twist

A couple of months ago, I stopped into a local business to take care of an errand. I had taken the bus to the doctor for a physical exam. That meant I was pretty darned hungry for a late breakfast, since you have to fast before such an exam. I asked the person behind the counter where the nearest breakfast restaurant was. They suggested Dan’s Hamburgers. “It’s right close by, just north of here on this side of Lamar,” I was told.

So, I walked about two blocks east to 4800 North Lamar. I turned left and headed up the sidewalk. I got to end of the first block and assumed that Dan’s Hamburgers was probably in the next block, or perhaps the one after that. But I was in for a rude surprise. It turned about to be a very long hike. I asked several people how close it was, and they just kept telling me to keep going.

By this time I had already figured out what the problem was. The guy who told me that Dan’s Hamburgers was “right close by” must have assumed that I would get into a car and quickly zip over there. The long, eight-block hike would have taken less than five minutes in a car. During the entire walk, two happy thoughts kept running through my mind. One, I believed that the breakfast would be well worth waiting for. And two, it was comforting to know that the #1 North Lamar bus runs every 11-12 minutes. At least I would have a short wait as soon as I finished breakfast.

OK, Breakfast Is Done. Now I’m Sitting At the Nearest Bus Stop

As it turns out, I had not ridden the North Lamar bus in the last couple of years. After several minutes went by, reality began to set in. Even before I looked up the schedule, I remembered something bad. North Lamar and Burnet Road are the two busiest routes in the Capital Metro system. In 2014, they thought they had created a wonderful solution by putting in those gigantic, double-sized buses – MetroRapid they are called. They have accordions on them to help navigate turns.

Those giant buses are exactly twice as expensive to ride as the regular ones. And they are “express buses,” which means that they will get you across town faster because they make much fewer stops. But here’s the bad news for the huge number of regular bus riders. When the giant buses went into service, Capital Metro more than doubled the waiting time for the regular buses. And besides that, there may not be a “giant bus stop” anywhere near where you happen to be when you need a bus.

That convenient, every-11-to-12-minute service up and down North Lamar to Guadalupe, past  U.T. into downtown that we enjoyed for 25 or 30 years no longer exists. It has been stretched into 26 minutes. So, if you throw in Murphy’s law, the last bus at my stop probably came about 14 seconds before I walked out of Dan’s Hamburgers. I was in for quite a long wait. Imagine trying to endure that in July, with blistering 100-degree heat and stifling humidity.

The Man With the Bright Red Book In His Lap

I didn’t have to wait long for some human companionship. A quiet, neatly dressed guy pulling a small overnight suitcase on rollers plopped down on the seat next to me. At first, I didn’t say anything to him. I couldn’t help but notice the bright red book in his lap. I could read the title quite clearly. Then I looked at my watch. The vast majority of those 26 minutes were still out there to be counted. So, I figured I might as well take a chance and start a conversation.

“Is that a Holy Bible?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

“Why, yes, it certainly is!” the guy responded, as his face lit up with eager anticipation.

There was something about him that made me think he was not going to pound me into submission if I did not succumb to everything he had to offer. He appeared to be a calm and gentle soul, and Indeed he was. He briefly explained that he had learned all of life’s bitter lessons. He would never use drugs or alcohol again. And above all, he was certainly never going back to prison. When the bus finally came, I was grateful for the time-passing conversation.

Will Austin’s “Year of Mobility” Include Expansion and Improvements to Capital Metro’s Bus Service?

Ever since the defeat of the wildly expensive “urban rail” bonds in 2014, I have been waiting for an announcement about improved bus service. Jeff Travillion, the winner of the Democratic primary for Travis County Commissioner, campaigned on that issue. Many neighborhoods in both northeast and southeast Travis County have no bus service at all, not even with 26 minute wait times. And just for the record, there are other busy routes inside the city that have longer waits than 26 minutes. The regular, non-accordion #3 Burnet/Manchaca bus runs in 30-35 minute intervals on weekdays.

How Does Capital Metro’s Official “2020 Plan” Line Up With What They Actually Did to the Bus Service?

In the case of the busy #1 North Lamar Route, the official “Capital Metro 2020 Plan,” published in January 2010, contained a promise that they clearly failed to keep. In Chapter 5, “Service Recommendations,” Page 5-14, you will find these statements:

“Frequency on Route 1 should be improved to account for the deletion of service on Route 1L. Route 1 should be classified as a future ‘Frequent Service’ Route. Route 101 will be converted to a MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit line. The alignment of the MetroRapid line is identical to the alignment of Route 101, although the number of stops will be reduced.”

The situation only got worse after the official plan was published. Instead of improving the service on Route !, they did the exact opposite. Over the next two years, the passengers complained. On January 31, 2014, KUT reported on it in a news story entitled, “Is Capital Metro’s New MetroRapid Service Leaving Bus Riders Behind?” When questioned about the longer wait times and the frustrated passengers, Roberto Gonzalez, Capital Metro’s Manager of Service Planning made another hollow promise: “As for adding back additional Route 1 service, if there’s something that we need to address more permanently, then that’s what we’ll end up doing,” he says. “But it is very early.”

Well, here we are another two years out and the service is still pretty pitiful. I have to wonder how many other major cities would tolerate 25-35 minute wait times on the two busiest bus routes in their systems.

A New “Connections 2025 Plan” Is Currently In Development – And Guess What the Community Survey Reveals…

You can read about the new plan here. The “Community Survey Summary” offers many insights into what people like and dislike most about Capital Metro. Not surprisingly, the results of one survey question jumped out at me.

Question 15, Page 17: “I Would Ride Capital Metro more often if…”

The highest ranking response, at 50% was, “If the buses ran more frequently.” You can You can see the graph here.

Let’s Add Bus Improvements to the Conversation About Transportation Bonds In November

I will be meeting with Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and City Council Member Ann Kitchen to encourage them to support just such a plan. Both of them serve on the Capital Metro Board. I will also bring it up with the Mayor’s staff. With the road bonds set to appear on the November ballot, only the car-driving folks and bicycle riders will have the opportunity for mobility improvements. Large numbers of people on the lower end of Austin’s devastating economic divide remain trapped in a mobility and affordability quagmire.

So, let’s ask our civic leaders to address the needs of citizens who rely on Capital Metro buses to get to and from their destinations. Not only would those improvements help existing bus riders, but they could very well encourage others to start using the bus system and take some cars off the roads. And while we’re at it, let’s push for a network of park and ride facilities too. Instead of relying on another study headed by an outside consultant, we need a real action plan that budgets these improvements and puts them into place. Our leaders need to deliver the results just as predictably as the roadway and bicycle improvements that we will vote on in November.

Then And Now – The Multiplying Wait Times for Regular Capital Metro Buses

  1. 2008 Capital Metro Schedule Book – Look at Route #1L/1M, North Lamar/South Congress, beginning on Page 23. Note that most of the time intervals on weekdays are 11 to 12 minutes apart. Look at Route #3, Burnet/Manchaca, beginning on Page 33. Note that most of the time intervals on weekdays are 20 to 23 minutes apart.
  2. 2016 Capital Metro Schedule Book – Look at Route #1, Metric/South Congress, which includes North Lamar, beginning on Page 33. Note that most of the time intervals on weekdays have increased to 26 minutes apart. Look at Route #3, Burnet/Manchaca, beginning on Page 41. Note that most of the time intervals on weekdays have increased to 30 to 35 minutes apart.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting:

Walking Songs

  1. “I’m Walking” – Ricky Nelson’s first record, 1957. A bigger hit for Fats Domino
  2. “Walk Right In” – The Rooftop Singers, 1963
  3. “Walk Right Back” – The Everly Brothers, 1961
  4. “I Walk the Line” – Johnny Cash, 1956
  5. “These Boots Are Made for Walking” – Nancy Sinatra, 1966
  6. Walk Like a Man” – The Four Seasons, 1963
  7. “Walking In the Sunshine” – Roger Miller, 1967

Songs About Waiting

  1. “Tired of Waiting for You” – The Kinks, 1965
  2. “I’m Waiting Forever” – Willie Nelson, 1996
  3. “Waiting In the Weeds” – The Eagles, 2007
  4. “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” – Jack Johnson, 2005
  5. “Right Here Waiting” – Richard Marx, 1989
  6. “Forever” – The Little Dippers (Pseudonym for the Anita Kerr Singers), 1960

Songs for the Man With the Bright Red Book

  1. “The Wild Side of Life” – Hank Thompson, 1951
  2. “Walk On the Wild Side” – Brook Benton, 1962
  3. “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking” – Cal Smith, 1972
  4. “Prisoner’s Song” – Adam Wade, 1962
  5. “In the Jailhouse Now” – Jimmy Wakely, 1957
  6. “I Saw the Light” – Willie Nelson & Leon Russell, 1979
  7. “Down to the River to Pray” – Alison Krauss, 2000
  8. “Me And Jesus” – Tom T. Hall, 1972
  9. “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor” – Johnny Russell, 1973
  10. “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” – Patsy Cline, 1960
  11. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – The Lettermen, 1965

Let’s Seal The Deal On Hamilton Pool Fees

By Bill Oakey – June 1, 2016

Last week I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek criticism of Travis County officials for their new method of charging fees to visit the Hamilton Pool Reserve. Behind the scenes, however, I have a very good working relationship with the Travis County Commissioners Court. I simply could not resist jumping into the pool fray on this blog. Now, the ball is in their Court, literally. I have reached out to Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s office, since his Precinct 3 is where the park is located. My suggestions for reforming the fee structure and the method of collecting the fees, taking reservations, etc. will be considered and reviewed with the appropriate County Parks staff.

Now, here comes my favorite research question again…

How Do They Do This Kind of Thing In Other Counties and Other States?

Well, I found some answers. And this is how I think we can close the deal – signed, sealed and delivered. In the section below the picture, I will lay out the differences in rules and policies in other places, side by side with how it’s now being done during Hamilton Pool’s peak season here in Travis County.

The handshake after the deal is sealed

The handshake after the deal is sealed

Side By Side Comparison Of Rules and Procedures

The Travis County information is taken directly from this Travis County Parks Webpage.

Reservation Date Change Policy

Travis County: “Once you make your reservation, you cannot change the date.” (This means that if you are a tourist or are otherwise unable to go on a later date, then you forfeit the $10.00 registration fee).

Santa Barbara, California Parks (found here): “To change or modify a reservation, please complete and submit an online Reservation Change Form.

Reservation Refund Policy

Travis County: “Reservations are not refundable.”

Santa Barbara Parks (found here): “Reservations cancelled within 24 hours of making the reservation are eligible for a full refund.”

Reservation Payment Policy – Credit Cards vs. Cash or Check

Travis County: “You pay online for your reservation fee, and pay for your (separate) entrance fee with cash or local check when you arrive at the preserve.” (This means that if you don’t have a credit card because you are economically disadvantaged, then you cannot make a reservation, and therefore, you cannot come to the park).

Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas (found here under FAQ’s & Info): “Reservations made online through this system must be paid at the time of reservation with a major credit card. We accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. Reservations can be made in person with cash or check. If you would to make a reservation in person, please visit our office downtown.” (Travis County could go further, by offering this service both downtown and in other office locations).

Why Does Travis County Need Two Separate Fees for Hamilton Pool?

The dual reservation plus entrance fee policy has resulted in a dramatic skyward leap for the total cost, from $15 per vehicle to $26. Parks staff have told the Commissioners Court that there are “too many tiers” of entrance fees to allow them to charge each visitor a single up-front fee. Visitors on bicycles, pass holders and seniors with discounts all pay different entrance fees. But the last time I booked anything online, I found a wide range of options and I never questioned whether the 21st century computer system could handle the complexity.

It would seem to be far more efficient and certainly more convenient for the park visitors to make just one up-front payment to cover both the reservation and the entrance fee. And as I mentioned in my previous blog posting, the County is saving huge amounts of taxpayers’ money and resources during the peak season for Hamilton Pool. Much fewer Parks staff are needed without the overflow crowds and the parking madness that occurred before the new reservation system was adopted. So, logically, the total fees charged to the park users should be lower, rather than higher, than they were under the old system. Does the County Park system need more overall funding in the budget? If so, that is a separate issue altogether, and it should not create an undue burden for Hamilton Pool visitors.

A Few Words About Customer Service and a Friendly, Welcoming Approach

Visitors and citizens of Travis Country are the guests of the hosts who provide the public services. Our County officials should not let themselves be outdone by California or anyplace else when it comes to the Gold Standard of Excellence that they should strive to achieve. Policies should be as flexible, convenient and socioeconomically inclusive as possible. All of our parks should be accessible to anyone who wishes to come and enjoy them.

SL-3

Hamilton_Pool

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting:

  1. “Signed, Sealed And Delivered” – Rusty Draper, 1961
  2. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” – Stevie Wonder, 1970
  3. “The Rain, The Park, And Other Things” – The Cowsills, 1967
  4. “All The Gold In California” – Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers Band, 1979
  5. “Coward Of The County” – Kenny Rogers, 1980

Hamilton Pool Fee Earns First “Unaffordability Award” For Travis County

By Bill Oakey – May 25, 2016

This is the time of year for congratulating all kinds of citizens. Students are graduating, many of them with honors and distinctions, from high schools and colleges across Central Texas. Very soon, the June wedding season will begin, with beaming grooms and smiling brides celebrating and being congratulated by their families and friends.

My nephew, Nathan and his bride, Amanda at their June, 2002 wedding

My nephew, Nathan and his bride, Amanda at their June, 2002 wedding

For all of those reasons, I am very disappointed that May 2016 just happens to be the time when Travis County receives the very first “downer” award from this blog. We sometimes hear sour notes in music, and awards can be given for negative recognition. So, today we announce an un-congratulatory, “Unaffordability Award” for Travis County.*

The Hamilton Pool Reservation Fee Fiasco – A Fantastical Foray Into Fiscal Foolishness

As of May 15, the Travis County Parks Department began charging a $10.00 advance reservation fee to get into Hamilton Pool Preserve. The fee can only be paid online and only with a credit card. There is a mandatory $1.00 surcharge for the credit card, so the fee is actually $11.00. None of it is refundable under any circumstances. And once you make the reservation, you cannot change the date. I suppose that pools need rules, but who were the fools who came up with such an unfriendly and inflexible system? I did find one section of the website that states that you can change your reservation (but you still can’t get a refund) if rain causes the pool to be closed on your reservation date. If you are a tourist and don’t plan to come back anytime soon, I guess you just eat the $11.00 fee.

Is There Another Fee to Pay When You Get to the Pool?

Of course. This one is $15 per vehicle. And the reservation fee does not count towards the second fee. So, your total cost comes to $26.00. The double-pack of fees remains in effect through September 30th. County officials did articulate a reason for these policy changes. Hamilton Pool is just “getting too popular around the globe.” So, the reservation system protects the public from driving 30 miles from Austin, only to discover that there is a long line of cars waiting to get in. County Parks staff have been spending too many hours and costly resources handling the traffic in recent years. But their solution leaves a lot of questions, not the least of which is this one:

Does Your Family “Belong” at Hamilton Pool? – Apparently Not, If You Are Low-Income

In these modern days of $300 massages and $150 breakfasts at some downtown hotels during Formula One, $26 in fees to get into Hamilton Pool may not sound like a big deal. But let’s not forget that Travis County has a very high poverty rate, and a heck of a lot of families who struggle with low wages, high rent and other affordability issues. For a special occasion, some of those families may want to visit Hamilton Pool. Travis County does an admirable job on affordable housing initiatives and they continue to explore new options in that area. But somewhere, somehow, somebody simply dropped the ball on this Hamilton Pool fee fiasco.

droppedball

How Much Extra Parks Revenue Could Travis County Get From the New Fees This Year?

$127,175.00, according to the Austin Monitor.

A Simple Solution

The crux of the pool problem seems to be overcrowding and not enough room for parking. The Texas Governor’s Mansion uses a simple reservation process, and it’s free. As for Hamilton Pool, it seems like it would make sense to charge only one fee, and let visitors pay it online in advance. That’s what people do every day when they pay for concerts and zillions of other special events. Modern computer systems are capable of handling reservation date changes. A family with a medical emergency or any other reason should not have to swallow the fee and pay it again later. Since the upfront cost would be higher under this arrangement, the County might want to rethink the refund policy. Perhaps they could charge a small processing fee to do a refund. Retailers and restaurants do it all the time with credit card payments, usually without an extra charge.

A More Cost-Effective Process Should Result In Lower Fees, Not Higher Ones

Travis County should be able to run a few cost analysis scenarios and come up with a payment method that is far simpler and more affordable than the one that took effect on May 15th. In fact, since the new system would be automated and fewer Parks staff would be needed to handle the smaller influx of cars, the visitor fee should be lower than last year’s, not higher. Hamilton pool should be financially accessible to all Travis County residents.

* Fine Print: “Downer” awards from this blog can be rescinded. No application, no website registration, and no fee is required. Once the public officials fix the problem that earned them the award, the blog will rescind it. The original posting will remain in the blog archives, along with an update noting when the award was rescinded.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting:

“The Unbirthday Song” – From “Alice In Wonderland”

Presentation To AISD Board Of Trustees – School Finance Reform Proposal

By Bill Oakey – May 23, 2016

Attending an AISD board meeting was a fascinating experience, and one that I recommend everyone do at least once in their lifetime. During the 30 person public comment period, parents, teachers, school staff members and community activists of all stripes had their say. It was quite different from a City Council meeting or a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting. The center of attention, whether addressed directly or indirectly, was the school kids, the folks who will step into our shoes and who represent Austin’s future.

My topic of discussion was the school finance reform proposal that was introduced on this blog on May 14th:

Presentation to AISD Board Meeting, Public Comment Period – School Finance Reform Proposal

By Bill Oakey – May 23, 2016

Hello And Good Evening,

My name is Bill Oakey, and I am a retired accountant and blog writer for AustinAffordability.com. Since the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current school finance system Constitutional, I have drafted a school finance reform proposal. This proposal would subdivide the school districts across Texas into local school board voting districts, and use those smaller areas to calculate the “Robin Hood” recapture amounts. The intent is to reduce the unfair burden placed upon AISD, and allow more of our local tax dollars to stay here in Austin.

I would like to thank Board President, Kendall Pace, as well as Jacob Reach in Dr. Cruz’s office for offering to formally review my proposal. I hope it can serve as a discussion staring point that will lead to meaningful reform. Some folks have cautioned me that the Legislature will not reform the school funding formulas or increase education spending. But in its 2016 “Quality Counts” report, Education Week ranked Texas 43rd in the nation for student achievement, chance for success and school finance. (See the full Education Week “Quality Counts” report here).

We need to rally the support of City, County and AISD officials, along with leaders in the business community, to stand up for Austin Schools and make Legislative reform happen. Austin simply cannot sustain a Robin Hood increase from $181 million to $445 million over a three-year period. For some challengers, you could walk softly and carry a big memory stick full of data, as you march into battle. The numbers should speak for themselves.

It will be an uphill struggle. When Marty Robbins sang his inspiring song, “You Gave Me a Mountain,” in 1969, he wasn’t sure if he could climb that mountain. But here today, if everyone works together, I do believe there is hope. I believe in Austin, and I believe in Texas.

mountain

Vote For Jeff Travillion For Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 1

By Bill Oakey – May 19, 2016

After studying the employment and community backgrounds and campaign commentary of Democratic candidates Jeff Travillion and Arthur Sampson, this blog recommends that voters of Travis County Precinct 1 vote for Jeff Travillion. This is a runoff election for the Democratic primary, and election day is this coming Tuesday May 24th. The winner will face a Republican opponent in the November general election, to replace retiring Commissioner Ron Davis. Voter turnout in this Tuesday’s runoff will be extremely important. So if you do not live in Precinct 1, but have contact with people who do, please feel free to share this blog link.

Vote for Jeff Travillion on Election Day, this Tuesday May 24th

Jeff-Travillion

Jeff Travillion

A Very Brief Rundown On the Candidates’ Backgrounds

In the March primary, Jeff Travillion came out in first place with 41.6% of the vote, to 18.5% for Arthur Sampson. Both candidates are well established in the community, with Travillion having worked as an administrator at several City of Austin departments, and Sampson being a retired project manager at the City’s Public Works Department. Travillion is currently a division manager in the City’s Code Department.

Where Jeff Travillion Stands On Affordability

In a recent blog interview, Mr. Travillion started the conversation by emphasizing the need to address the displacement of residents from the central core out to the outer layers of the County. He made the following comments:

“We need to build density in the transportation corridors, to justify the creation of better transportation options.”
“We need improvements in bus service. There is no bus service at all in Pflugerville, and very little bus service in Manor.”
“The outer areas of the County do not have a series of health clinics like they have in the City.”
“Half of the people moving to the outskirts of the County are not doing so by choice. They are being forced to move because of the high costs in the City.”

Throughout the discussion, Mr. Travillion stressed that there is a strong correlation between affordability and economic development. Many of the problems that he described have existed in Precinct 1 for quite a number of years. In terms of solutions, Jeff suggested that our local officials should work together to develop a Park and Ride Master Plan. This would help facilitate better opportunities for both rail and improved bus service. He also recommended the building of secure treatment centers for citizens who face mental health issues. He made a strong case that his employment experience doing problem-solving at the City level would prepare him to help deliver the needed improvements in Precinct 1.

What About the Mud and the Muck In the Runoff Campaign?

Attacks are going to happen in political races about as often as ants will get into your sandwich if you leave it near the grass too long while on a picnic. You can read about that kind of stuff elsewhere, if you are interested. My favorite quote from Jeff Travillion is a comment that he made to the Austin American-Statesman, which endorsed him in the March primary election. In the face of some strong criticism from his opponent, Mr. Travillion said of him, “He’s a great man and has had a great career. but I’ve been involved in a number of public policy areas.” That’s not exactly a ringside counter-punch or media ratings-grabber of a comment. But it’s a big part of the reason that I would vote for Jeff Travillion if I lived in Precinct 1.

To learn more about Jeff Travilliion, volunteer or make a donation, visit his website and his Facebook page.

logo

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

“Pflugerville” – The Austin Lounge Lizards, 1984

One More Time – Can We Get A Master List With Total Costs For All City Plans?

By Bill Oakey May 19, 2016

I have asked this question before, both on this blog and in the offices down at City Hall. There was the first time and then the next time. The last time I tried it out on a City Council aide, I got a polite response. In fact, they’ve all been polite.  But we are still no closer to an actual, tangible report that you could hold in your hand or click on from a website. What we need, in my opinion, is a complete list of all active City plans, showing how much each one of them will cost, and what the total cost would be if we funded every one of them. And, there’s one other thing. We need a public process to engage with the City Council, so they can set priorities and establish an affordable timeline to implement and pay for the most essential plans.

So, there! I’ve said it again. And on Thursday during Citizens Communications at the City Council meeting, I will deliver the suggestion and the request one more time. Rather than repeat myself on this blog, I will offer the previous links to this subject at the end. But first, I must confess that I failed to employ one of my core research principles. So, let’s get that out of the way right now.

My Favorite Question for Other Cities – How Do You Do It?

Today a little light went off in my head, and I realized that I needed to do a simple Google search for “list of city plans.” Lo and behold, there are other cities out there that publish lists of their plans. Granted, these are not necessarily in a format that summarizes, prioritizes and tallies up the total cost. But, heck, a master list is a gigantic step in the right direction. This might help convince Austin officials that it isn’t such a crazy idea after all. Below are links to some of the lists from other cities found in the Google search:

  1. Portsmouth, New Hampshire – “Plans and Reports,” from “Plan Portsmouth” website
  2. Homer, Alaska – “Strategic Doing List of City Plans” (Memorandum 15-042)
  3. Ann Arbor, Michigan – “List of City Plans,” from “Sustainability Framework, 2013,” Appendix A, Page 14
  4. Asheville, North Carolina – “City Plans”
  5. Urbana, Illinois – “Urbana Plan Commission, Regular Meeting Minutes,” November 6, 2014, Item 5, Page 2, 5th paragraph, “There is a list of City plans that are available on the City’s website…”

I should point out that a few of Austin’s plans are listed on the “Planning and Zoning Development webpage.”

How Long Should It Take the City to Compile the List?

One friend told me that it’s “pretty scary” to think that no one person at City Hall knows how many plans there are, much less how much all of them totaled up might cost. So, what deadline should I suggest, if I can find a Council sponsor for a resolution? The bottom line would be a pretty scary number, so perhaps October 31st, Halloween, would be appropriate. The City Manager would no doubt decide which Halloween of which year in the future to comply with the resolution, regardless of what due date is certified by the City Clerk in the approved document. But it’s still worth one more try. Maybe the request won’t just fade away, like all the other times.

One Final Comment That Does Bear Repeating

You can read my previous blog postings on this subject by clicking here, here and here. To conclude, let’s all think about this question. What would happen if the CEO of Apple, Google, Amazon or any other big company was called upon by their board of directors to provide a complete list of that company’s active plans, their total cost, and a time frame for funding those plans? Suppose that CEO stared back at the board and said, “I don’t have any such list, and I don’t know how many departments have active plans in place.” The chairperson would most likely reply, “We hope you have enjoyed your tenure here as CEO. The door is over that way…”

door out

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting:
Planning Songs
  1. “Making Plans” – Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, 1980
  2. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” – Paul Simon, 1975
Timing Songs
  1. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” – Celine Dion, 2004
  2. “The Next Time” – Cliff Richard & the Shadows, 1962
  3. “The Last Time” – The Rolling Stones, 1965
  4. “This Time” – Troy Shondell, 1961
  5. “Time After Time” – Frank Sinatra, 1947
  6. “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper, 1983
  7. “There! I’ve Said It Again” – Bobby Vinton, 1963
  8. “Try Me One More Time” – Wanda Jackson, 1966
  9. “Like All The Other Times” – Marty Robbins, 1961
  10. “Do It Again” – The Beach Boys, 1968
Questions & Answers
  1. “How Do You Do It?” – Gerry & the Pacemakers, 1963. (Turned down by the Beatles for their first record)
  2. “Lo And Behold” – James Taylor, 1970
Scary Songs
  1. “Haunted House” – Jumpin’ Gene Simmons, 1964
  2. “The Purple People Eater” – Sheb Wooley, 1958
  3. “The Mummy” – Bob McFadden & Dor, 1959
  4. “Monster Mash” – Bobby “Boris” Pickett, 1962

School Finance Reform Proposal

By Bill Oakey – May 14, 2016

The City of Austin and the Austin Independent School District (AISD) were both rocked to their foundations on Friday when the Texas Supreme Court handed down its decision on the State’s controversial Robin Hood school finance system. The Court ruled unanimously that the funding plan is constitutional under Texas law. That leaves Austin schools in a perilous financial dilemma. Under the Robin Hood formulas, Austin is forced to send more school property tax revenue back to the State than any other school district in Texas. For details on the devastating financial impact that the court decision will have on AISD, please see this excellent KXAN-TV News piece by reporters Kevin Kline, Calily Blen and Kylie McGivern.

As KXAN reported, the Texas Supreme Court did, however, stop short of endorsing the current school financing system. “Justice Eva Guzman delivered a concurring opinion stating the court calls for “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms” and that more work needs to be done regarding “economically disadvantaged students.” Following the announcement of the court’s decision, Austin State Representative, Celia Israel immediately declared that Governor Abbott should call a special session of the Legislature “so Texas can fully invest in its education system.” A special session is unlikely, however, since Governor Abbott issued a statement praising the Supreme Court ruling.

How Austin Schools Get the Royal Shaft

Former AISD school board president and Texas Senate candidate, Gina Hinojosa, labeled the court decision “a punch in the gut.” The numbers show that AISD taxpayers will soon be headed for a world of hurt in proportions that I can only describe as a nightmare scenario. Unless some adequate reforms are hammered out between now and January when the Legislature meets for the next regular session. Do not continue reading this blog post if you have any stomach issues or anxiety problems. AISD’s current funding requirement from local taxpayers to be sent back to the State under Robin Hood in 2015 was $181 million. Projections indicate that by 2018 that number would skyrocket to $445 million. Who amongst your neighbors and friends could sustain that kind of hit to their wallets in increased property taxes?

1938 "Adventures of Robin Hood" Movie Poster

1938 “Adventures of Robin Hood” Movie Poster

The City Has Proposed a Tax Swap With AISD

Some on the Austin City Council have proposed letting Austin taxpayers pay for certain social programs currently funded by AISD. But as I mentioned on this blog, such a plan would have serious unintended consequences. Seniors aged 65 and over have their school taxes frozen under Texas law. The City’s tax-swap proposal would need to include carefully prescribed adjustments in order to avoid penalizing seniors.

Here Is My School Finance Reform Proposal

Currently the State shifts funds from property-rich school districts to property-poor school districts, based upon the taxable value of each school district’s total property tax base. Because of Austin’s huge annual spikes in tax appraisals, we get the biggest share of Robin Hood payments required to be sent back to the State each year. My reform proposal calls for designating the “wealthy” and “poor” areas at the local school board voting district level, rather than ranking each whole school district against every other whole district.

Under this scenario, AISD’s seven geographic voting districts would be measured against all the other geographic school board voting districts across the state. You can see the boundaries of AISD’s voting districts here. Under my funding plan, the property values would be calculated for each of these seven districts. Using this method, only some of our geographic districts would be designated as “wealthy.” Orhers might fall somewhere in the middle, and some might be considered “poor.”

Approximately 60% of AISD students live in poverty and receive free or reduced price school lunches. Under my proposal, the Robin Hood funds would only be collected from the richest school board voting districts across the state. Then those funds would be redistributed  to the poorest of those school board voting districts. We all know that school funding formulas can be crazy and ridiculously complicated. So, I see my proposal as a discussion starting point. Let’s see if our local and State officials can work with it and other reform strategies to fund Texas schools in a much more equitable manner. Otherwise, the current system will send AISD taxpayers completely over the cliff that they already perched upon.

falling

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “Wonderful World” – Sam Cooke, 1960
  2. “Swingin’ School” – Bobby Rydell, 1960
  3. “High School Confidential” – Jerry Lee Lewis, 1958
  4. “Little School Girl” – Fats Domino, 1954
  5. “Charlie Brown” – The Coasters, 1959
  6. “The Hookey Song” – Don Cornell & Teresa Brewer, 1952
  7. “Teacher’s Pet” – Doris Day, 1958
  8. “School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell)” – Chuck Berry, 1957
  9. “Hey, Schoolgirl” – Tom & Jerry, 1957 (early recording name for Simon & Garfunkel)
  10. “Waitin’ In School” – Ricky Nelson, 1957
  11. “Teen Angel” – Mark Dinning, 1959
  12. “High School USA” – Tommy Facenda, 1959 (national version; 28 regional versions released)
  13. “Let’s Go Steady for the Summer” – The Three G’s, 1960
  14. “Vacation” – Connie Francis, 1962
  15. “Roses Are Red (My Love)” – Bobby Vinton, 1962
  16. “Surfin’ USA” – The Beach Boys, 1963
  17. “The New Girl In School” – Jan & Dean, 1964 (flip side of “Dead Man’s Curve”)
  18. “Sealed With a Kiss” – Brian Hyland, 1962
  19. “Summertime, Summertine” – The Jamies, 1958 (became a hit again in 1962)
  20. “See You In September” – The Tempos, 1959
  21. “Kodachrome” – Paul Simon, 1973
  22. “To Sir With Love” – Lulu, 1967
  23. “Carrie Anne” – The Hollies, 1967
  24. “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” – Paul Simon, 1972
  25. “Dance, Dance, Dance” – The Beach Boys, 1965
  26. “Summer Nights” – “Grease” Soundtrack, 1978
  27. “You’re The One That I Want” – “Grease” Soundtrack, 1978
  28. “The Janitor Knows” – Those Darn Accordions, 2007
  29. “Teach Me Tonight” – Jo Stafford, 1954
  30. “Moments To Remember” – The Four Lads, 1955