Step away from that mailbox

Take a deep breath. If you own real property in Travis County, think before you look at what the letter carrier brought today. Dropping by briefly at noon, thoughtlessly we grabbed our mail. Right on top was the envelope with the dread return address of the Travis Central Appraisal District. The even more fearsome information contained in the enclosure, the 2007 appraised value, is already up on line at the TCAD site. I’ve been checking there frequently, but not frequently enough to know exactly when the data went up. The new valuation always seems a little less real and a little more mild when previewed on line. It’s hard to avoid the involuntary sharp intake of breath when the envelope is opened and it’s all there in black and white. It gives such a warm feeling to know that one’s property taxes go to be managed by the AISD, headed by a superintendent whose contract was just renewed and who’s eager to close schools within walking distance and with grounds covered with portable buildings (those add-on eyesore class-boxes filling the schoolyards are needed because the old neighborhood schools are so “under-enrolled”) and by the City of Austin, which can’t be bothered to post a telephone directory on line and which keeps slush funds (for once the editor of the local daily called it just right) from which to draw big bucks (to the tune, we told, of $11,000) to pay for retirement parties for favored civil servants. ACC appears to use its tax money reasonably well. The healthcare district at least means that those outside the city limits pay a share of the costs. And the Travis County commissioners have at last seen fit to repair some of the damage done by abolitions and by bad amalgamations of some voter precincts. Anyhow, here we are, nearly a third of the way through the tax year and already running behind on saving for the property-tax bill. Everybody pays this one, whether directly, or, as tenants, indirectly.

7 Comments so far

  1. Tim (unregistered) on April 24th, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

    Oh, for the love of pete. The kids attending your schools don’t live in the school district. Check out this map and you’ll see why Austin isn’t repairing your schools or building new ones:

    There just aren’t any kids in central austin. The schools are just transfer schools for white parents in gentrifying neighborhoods.

  2. Rantor (unregistered) on April 24th, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

    Those who don’t wish to endure downloading a large Adobe *.pdf file may be interested to know that this is a map based on the 2000 census showing the percentage of households comprising a married couple with one or more children. Students attending school in the AISD live with foster families, grandparent families, a single parent, as emancipated minors, or with same-gender parents, and no doubt in other sorts of households as well. It’s now 2007. If there are no kids in central Austin, why are the parks full of them? Why are the schools? Why are the sidewalks busy with strollers? Why are there so many kids at the bus stops? I’m not sure what this means: “The schools are just transfer schools for white parents in gentrifying neighborhoods.” Unless appearances and languages in use are exceptionally deceiving, the kids are from many ethnic backgrounds. If the kids attending central-city schools aren’t from the neighborhoods, why is there so much neighborhood involvement in supporting them and trying to keep them from being closed? holding arts fairs? food sales? concerts? working for more and improved sidewalks? I personally am amazed that the new elementary schools in town are designed for a student body many times larger than those of high schools and colleges not so long ago.

  3. Tim (unregistered) on April 24th, 2007 @ 5:59 pm

    I wish I had the statistics to back this up, but I don’t currently, and I don’t think the city wants to compile them. I find it hard to believe that the majority of children living in the 78701 zip code are living with unmarried or nontraditional parents. Let me rephrase that. I find it impossible to believe. I also find it impossible to believe that if the average home price has more than likely doubled in 78701 since 2000 that there would be MORE kids there. I personally also know several families that lived in 78701 for the first couple of years of their child’s life and then moved into a bigger house in the suburbs. I believe that’s a fairly common trend in the zip code. Which would partially explain why you see strollers and yet the schools are under populated.

    “why are the parks full of them? Why are the schools? Why are the sidewalks busy with strollers? Why are there so many kids at the bus stops?”

    Cars. We have cars. Many of us in the suburbs drive our kids into town to take advantage of the wonderful parks. Transfer students are driven into 78701 by their parents.

    The reason you see diversity in your schools is because the majority of the kids are probably coming from the low income apartments in the area. Which is ridiculously affordable compared to the prices of houses.

    As to my comment about “white transfer students from gentrifying areas”. I’m referring to the fact that there are many area schools in town with average home prices well over $200k, and with 60% or more of the kids on a reduced or free lunch program. How do the houses cost over $200k and the schools stay predominantly poor? Check out any of the parent’s lists around town and you’ll find out. It’s all about the transfers.

    The reason you have so much parental involvement in the schools is because you live in an incredibly affluent area. And we know that affluent areas generally take much better care of their schools.

  4. mss (unregistered) on April 24th, 2007 @ 6:44 pm

    I got mine today but the sticker shock wasn’t as bad as usual. According to the graph in the Statesman, the biggest increases were in other neighborhoods for a change. Plus my increases between 2000 and 2006 were so horrifying that this one seems a mild shock in comparison.

    Tim, my neighborhood school is Becker Elementary, targeted for closure. The four boys living with their grandfather next door to me all go there. In fact, there’s been a increase of kids in my neighborhood since I moved here in 1993. Becker Elementary provides a neighborhood focus, a place to gather, to vote (now that our precinct has been restored) and the wonderful Green Classroom. It would be a great loss to the neighborhood to close it. If people with families aren’t moving back into the central city, why do they need to keep building those monster 4000 square foot houses? My son (who walked to Travis Height Elementary and Fulmore Middle School) and I were perfectly content in our modest cottage…apparently now worth almost $400,000.

  5. Rantor (unregistered) on April 24th, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

    This is purely anecdotal and maybe I just don’t know many “traditional” nuclear families (although nationally they’re in the minority of the population), but I think they’re not that common in Austin and are growing less so all the time. Anyone living in the suburbs or what was a suburb 20 years ago before annexation isn’t likely to see the old, central schools before and after classes. And yes, there are lots of apartments in town. And lots of non-traditional and blended families. The close-in neighborhoods are welcoming and also have plenty of apartments. Not all households with children are living in single-family homes. Not all households with children have automobiles. All the single-family homes of which I’m aware in 78701 (a smaller area than many realize) have pretty much been turned into offices or demolished, although there are, amazingly, still more duplexes and small apartment buildings than many realize. The other 7870* ZIP code areas are full of kids. And so are the next rings out from there. And they’re attending the local schools within walking distance. And all those add-on buildings are in use. See who’s walking to Kash-Karry or who’s walking to Wheatsville. AISD goes ahead and builds new schools farther and farther out. I went to a theatrical performance at Crockett last summer. I remember when it was brand new, 20 years ago or so, and seemed as though it was on the edge of town (it sort of was). You’d never think it was built so recently to look at it now. I haven’t noticed any lack of parental involvement in the East Side schools (78702). The people at close-in local parks (I’m not talking about all the idiots who drive a car to walk around Town Lake) have walked or taken their bikes there (or strolled their strollers there). There’s always a tradeoff for people: lots and lots of square feet for a given sum and lots and lots of time spent in transportation to work and run errands, or fewer square feet for a given sum and the luxury of time to spend at home and in the neighborhood rather than to be spent on coming and going and to-ing and fro-ing. A school (and work and shopping and recreation) within walking distance–these are valued by more and more people and that’s why appraisals rise, to reflect sales prices. Thirty or twenty or even ten years ago, the closest-in houses were the cheapest ones, because they weren’t new and new was what most people wanted and were willing to pay more for and did pay more for, way more.

    p.s. I still don’t understand what kids are transferring from what schools and to what schools. I do know that there are a couple of schools (Pease? Wooldridge?) that some UT and State parents send their kids to for convenience and work-related reasons.

  6. SolMan-ATX (unregistered) on April 25th, 2007 @ 10:21 am

    I’m a Becker and Dawson parent and have what is considered a “traditional nuclear family”. Please don’t hold it against me. :-) I am further suspect as I live in a new house in Bouldin with an appraisal greater than $300k. (I got lucky and made a good profit on my house in French Place, otherwise I couldn’t afford to live here.)

    Tim’s probably right about 78701. Pease, after all, is a purely transfer school. Matthews also has a lot of transfers from outside the local area. But, I doubt that a significant number of these transfers are from outside AISD.

    The schools in 78704 have the opposite problem. White kids being driven across town instead of walking to their neighborhood schools.

    I see a lot of young families in the ‘hood, but not so many with school aged children. And of the white, school aged kids I see, not too many go to Becker. This is a problem for the schools, the neighborhood and the kids.

    My understanding is that Becker once had a reputation as a “ghetto” school. It certainly doesn’t deserve that rep. now. My kids have been to four different elementary schools in Austin (including Gullett) and my late wife worked in at least four more. The best school in AISD, in my humble opinion, is Maplewood in French Place. That school is about 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 hispanic. The parents are heavily involved and that’s what keeps the school on track.

    Our local, diverse schools (Travis Heights, Becker and Dawson) are all good schools and my yuppie bretheren need to support them not just politically, but practically by sending their kids there.

    Too many parents make the mistake of judging a school by it’s test scores. Test scores are really just a reflection of the underlying demographics of the school.

    The real issue for your kids is as follows: Are the schools preparing them for a successful, full life in the 21st century? I would argue that an 90% white school can’t meet that test.

    Going to a diverse school sends the message that we’re all the same underneath and that everybody in this society matters. What message are you sending by driving your kids from Bouldin and Travis Heights over to Zilker or Tarrytown? That brown people are scary? That you don’t want them to associate with those kinds of people? What’s the cost in time, pollution and stress associated with driving across town in rush hour traffic instead of taking a walk or bike ride down the street?


    Back to property taxes . . . So, yeah, my property taxes go to AISD. They, use them to educate a lot of kids in the suburbs. Whatever. The kids need to be educated and I’d rather see those parents who can’t afford to live in ’04 stay in the district rather than take their kids and taxes to Hays or Williamson county. I’m anti-sprawl but recognize that most families can’t afford to live close in. Slaughter lane is better than Buda in my opinion. Oh, and a big, wet sloppy kiss of thanks to the yuppies and absentee owners in the expensive condos in ’01 – your dollars are helping my kids.

  7. wae (unregistered) on April 26th, 2007 @ 4:58 pm


    Just got my assessment yesterday. I thought it might be a gentle reaming this year, but no. Hell, the land is now worth way more than I paid for the house and lot 4 years ago. And there’s not much hope for an appeal since nearby remodels set the comps even higher. The American Dream is kicking the shit out of my wallet.

    Gee, I hope my kid actually gets to use Zilker Elementary now that AISD takes more than UT did for my graduate education.

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