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Texas School Districts, Cities Put $8.2 Billion in Bond Proposals on Ballots

04/28/2017 12:46:00 pm | Viewed: 883

Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange

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A Lewisville ISD 2017 Bond poster. The Collin County school district is asking for $737 million, the largest K-12 educational institution request in the May 6 elections.

 

Posted: 4-28-2017, 4:01 p.m.

by Edmond Ortiz

On May 6, Texas voters will decide the fate of billions of dollars for bond issues, most of it being for cash-strapped school districts that must cover a persistent decline in state spending.

According to the state comptroller, 93 taxing jurisdictions—the majority being school districts—have bond referendums that collectively total more than $8.2 billion.

Among municipalities, San Antonio has the largest proposition this round at $850 million. It is also the Alamo City’s largest bond package to date.

Lewisville Independent School District is attempting the largest single-proposition education bond at $737 million. It would support renovating existing schools, building new facilities, and technology upgrades.

Officials and supporters of these and other bonds say the proposals are primarily designed to help their city or public education district replace aging infrastructure and enhance services. These bonds also are indicative of the high-growth they are experiencing.

North Texas: the Metroplex Explosion

Lewisville ISD has grown to become the state's 17th largest and the nation's 94th largest public school district. But Lewisville ISD is just one part of a region that is booming in every direction; the North Texas counties of Tarrant, Denton and Collin top the charts.

According to Vision North Texas, the 16-county region that includes Dallas/Fort Worth and surrounds the Metroplex is the nation’s fourth biggest metropolitan region. Its population could double 11.7 million by 2050 (Page 30).

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Preston Ridge campus of Collin College: a university/workforced development complex would be built here with bond funding. Photo courtesy of Collin College

 

“Growth is definitely a factor,” said Tom Delamater, Collin College chief public relations officer. “Collin County is expected to double in population by 2030, triple in population by 2040.”

Emily Conklin, communications director for Northwest ISD, said her school district adds 1,200 students on average every year. The district’s total student enrollment exceeds 22,000.

“It’s a fast-growing district. Two-thirds ($264 million) of the bond would address student growth,” Conklin said. The bond’s “growth” portion would include three new elementary schools, expansions of several existing campuses, and land for future school sites.

Tarrant voters alone face a combined $1.74 billion in bond projects proposed by six jurisdictions:

  • Lewisville ISD       $737 million
  • Northwest ISD      $399 million
  • Mansfield ISD       $275 million
  • Carroll ISD           $208 million
  • Burleson ISD        $ 85 million
  • City of Arlington    $ 45 million

Denton County voters will consider $1.32 billion in proposed bonds. These include the Lewisville and Northwest school districts which have territories that overlap Denton and Tarrant counties. The two other school districts are Argyle ISD with $166 million and Sanger ISD wtih $26.7 million.

Collin County ranks fourth among the Dallas-Fort Worth MSA counties with a combined $917.7 million request, but Collin County jurisdictions had the largest bond proposals in May 2016 with just over $1 billion. This year, Collin Community College District proposes a $600 million bond issue. Collin College officials say their $600 million referendum would facilitate a long-range master plan.

The Collin College proposition, $271.2 million total for development of a public safety training center in McKinney; a Preston Ridge campus workforce/university complex; a technical training facility; and improvements to the Central Park, Preston Ridge and Spring Creek campuses.

Tom Delamater - Collin College
Delamater said, this way, Collin College can expand its outreach: “We have a lot of commuter students. They typically don’t want to commute longer than 21 minutes, so we’re taking the institution closer to the students.”

“We also recognized a need to expand occupational and workforce training,” he added.

Elsewhere in Collin, Princeton ISD proposes $93.6 million, and the City of Plano wants $224.1 million. And a bit further north in Grayson County, Sherman ISD is floating a $308 million bond issue.

South and Central Texas

With a total request of $1.55 billion, Bexar County jurisdictions on the ballot place second behind Tarrant this election cycle.

San Antonio has begun implementing its SA Tomorrow long-range comprehensive plan, in order preparing for the 1 million people projected to move into Bexar by 2040.

In addition, the Bexar area community college district, Alamo Colleges, proposes $450 million in projects.

Three Bexar independent school districts are trying to do their part: Alamo Heights ISD is asking for $135 million; Judson ISD claims a need for $60 million; and Southside ISD proposes $59 million.

Travis County is mostly a no-show this year, but the City of Austin did pass a $720 million transportation bond proposal last year. For this election, Travis is affected by a Round Rock ISD proposal for $572.1 million, but most of Round Rock ISD’s tax base is in Williamson County.

Williamson County, in 2015, ranked as the nation’s seventh fastest growing county with more than 500,000 residents. The greater Austin MSA owes much of its growth to Williamson.

As such, Williamson property owners are being asked for "Yes" votes. In addition to the Round Rock ISD bond referendum, Jarrell ISD is asking for $54 million.

The two counties that fill the midsection of the Austin-San Antonio Corridor—Hays and Comal—have their own growing pains to contend with. Comal ISD, which does not include New Braunfels, has a proposition for $263.5 million; Hays Consolidated has two propositions that total $250 million.

Hays Consolidated split its bond package to improve its chances of getting something to pass. For new schools, the school district is asking for almost $190 million. For technology and security upgrades and maintenance, Hays Consolidated wants another $60 million.

Splitting bond packages into “bite size” pieces has become a common practice. For voters that can justify in their minds one infrastructure need, but not another, San Antonio has given them six options.

East Texas

Except for Galveston County, the Houston MSA bowed out this round. There are no bond issues from Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria or Montgomery counties. Barbers Hills ISD in Chambers County (east of Baytown) does have a $120 million bond proposal for school additions and a childhood center.

In Galveston County, the City of Galveston hopes to pass a $62 million package, and Clear Creek ISD is proposing a $487 million in capital improvements.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more notable proposed capital projects.

Education Bonds

Funds raised by school districts through property taxes and bond financings has been accelerating over the past decade. This is because state spending has not kept up.

A Texas Tribune December 20167 analysis found that in fiscal year 2017 the Legislature planned to spend $19.6 billion on schools, a 7.4 percent increase compared to 2007. But population grew faster than state spending and local districts and federal funds made up the difference.

“On a per-student basis, local spending rose $990.21 over those 10 years, state spending fell $339 and federal spending rose $45.06,” Texas Tribune reporter Ross Ramsey wrote.

It should follow as no surprise that of the $737 million Lewisville ISD is requesting, $249.1 million is to improve existing facilities. The scope of work varies from comprehensive renovations and additions at all elementary and high schools to expanding the Chester Boyd Agriculture Barn.

The same bond proposes $205.7 million total to build new facilities, including two elementary schools, a middle school, and multi-purpose facilities at Hebron and The Colony high schools.

 

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An architectural rendering of the proposed new Round Rock ISD high school and campus.

Round Rock ISD’s bond would allocate $150 million to build a sixth high school on Pearson Ranch Road. This campus would accommodate 2,600 students and help the district to even out the high school student populations.

The new school’s auditorium will serve as a districtwide facility, hosting middle and elementary school performances.

Northwest ISD is eyeing $54.5 million in work at Byron Nelson High School, including a classroom addition.

Clear Creek ISD’s bond proposes $45.1 million to build a smaller Clear View High School behind the existing CVHS. The newer facility would accommodate the regular CVHS populace, and workforce readiness programs that serve all district high school students.

The bond also proposes $46.9 million to replace League City Elementary School around the existing LCES property. The new facility will accommodate 900 students. Clear View and League City are more than 50 years old, each.

Municipal Bonds

Proposition 1 in San Antonio’s bond would commit $445.2 million toward 64 road, bridge and sidewalk projects.

The priciest single capital project is a $42 million “complete street” concept for Broadway commercial corridor between Houston Street and Hildebrand Avenue that would broaden sidewalks, better accommodate cyclists and introduce a uniform landscape plan.

Christian Archer, campaign manager for the pro-bond OneSA 2017 campaign, said the $850 million bond really amounts to $1.2 billion due to expected leveraging for several projects, such as Broadway.

“This is a historic investment because of San Antonio being on sound fiscal footing. We’re able to borrow without a property tax increase,” Archer said. “We have the best bonding capacity and bond rating, AAA. We’re able to do more projects for less money.”

The city of Plano would use its bond funds to improve existing infrastructure, parks and public safety facilities. The biggest dollar figure is a total $32 million proposal for rebuilding arterial streets citywide.

Opposition Hot Spots

Many jurisdictions floating bonds May 6 pledge little to no impact on their property tax rates. But those attempts at reassurance don’t sit well with residents in some communities.

Organized opposition has arisen in the Lewisville ISD, where a group—Lewisville C.A.R.E.S. (Citizens Acting for Responsible Education Spending)—says the $737 million bond will hurt the community.

“Believing the bond is full of unnecessary projects, and concerned about the proposed tear down of College Street and Hedrick elementary schools, these citizens want to communicate to voters the negative impact of passing the bond,” the group’s website states.

A pro-bond group, Vote Yes! Lewisville ISD, insists the school district’s bond “is a basic, no-frills proposal that will provide the schools, facilities, classrooms, technology, and renovations needed to provide a well-rounded education for our students.” according to its website.

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Included in the $850 million San Antonio bond package is $42 million to redevelop a section of Broadway, a main arterial into downtown. Illustration courtesy of MIG; WSP-Parson Brinckerhoff


There has been no discernible organized opposition to San Antonio’s bond proposal, but in a three-way mayoral race, candidate Manuel Medina has criticized portions of it.

In an interview with Texas Public Radio, Medina said $200 million of the $850 million is being given away to special interests. He was referring to quality of life projects he described as non-essential infrastructure, such as the $42 million reserved to redevelop a section of Broadway near the Pearl District and $26 million that would go toward a major redevelopment plan for Hemisfair Park.

Some parts of the Bexar County community have voiced worry over Alamo Colleges’ bond. The district has unresolved issues with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which last December issued accreditation warnings to three of the five campuses.

Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers, another opposition group, say the district is misleading voters on the estimated impact to their tax bills. However, a pro-bond group, Classrooms for Kids, says the money is needed for big-ticket items, such as a new high school and a natatorium.

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EOrtiz@Journalist.com


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Zoom Related Images
Clear View High School in the Clear Creek ISD requires a major renovation.
Hedrick Middle School in the Lewisville ISD is proposed to be demolished and replaced.
Tom Delamater - Collin College
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Adolfo Pesquera
Reporter/Editor
adolfo@virtualbx.com

Adolfo Pesquera is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.