Collin County Leads State in Capital Bonds on May 7 Election: Plano, Three Other ISDs Ask for $1 Billion
Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
Posted: 4-26-2016, 1:05 p.m.
by Adolfo Pesquera
The school districts of Collin County north of Dallas are far and away ahead of the state’s traditional urban powerhouses in terms of the funding requests placed on the May 7 ballots. Early voting began Monday, April 25.
Led by Plano Independent School District and its $481 million request, Collin County public entities are requesting from taxpayers authorization for more than $1 billion of bond financing.
According to data collected from Texas Transparency, this exceeds requests from Dallas County public entities by $164 million. Even if requests from Tarrant and Denton counties are combined with Dallas County, the total ($955.4 million) falls below Collin’s $1,099,150,000. Between the four counties of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the sum represents two-fifths the amount of all bond requests from across Texas on May 7 ballots.
Bond Elections Top 4 Regions
In all, there will be 88 bond propositions from 70 jurisdictions, with the lion’s share (70) coming from school districts. Seventeen municipalities have put bond propositions before voters, as has one community college district–Alvin CCD in Brazoria County.
Public entities in Harris County represent the third largest contingent of bond propositions with $619.1 million. If jurisdictions from neighboring Brazoria, Galveston and Montgomery counties are included, the region is asking for $807.6 million.
The greater San Antonio area ranks fourth. School districts in the Bexar, Kendall, Comal, Wilson and Guadalupe region want voters saying “Yes” on a combined $638.1 million. Judson and Boerne are presenting the largest bond propositions in that area, at $265.8 million and $175 million, respectively.
Despite presenting its base with the largest bond proposition this election cycle, there has been no noticeable opposition reported by Collin County media. Plano ISD last held a bond election in 2008. That bond was intended to provide for capital needs through 2012. The 2016 bond proposition has been marketed as the Zero Tax Rate Increase bond, a claim supported by the current interest and tax-based growth model.
Plano ISD is blessed with being able to boast having the second lowest property tax rate ($1.439 per $100 valuation) of the 14 school districts in Collin County.
The same cannot be said for neighboring Richardson ISD, where some opposition has surfaced to the $437 million request. Critics have claimed an ad campaign for the bond that is being financed by general contractors and architects that could benefit from it makes the ad campaign somehow improper.
Taking a look at media reports from around the state, here is a sampling of what’s being said:
Cadence McShane and Jackson Construction Co. were awarded contracts by the Richardson school board last year. Both of those projects came out of the capital projects fund, which is fed by surpluses in the budget.
It is legal, and typical, for companies that do business with a school district to contribute to school board campaigns. Opponents, however, believe it is an ethical issue.
“The impropriety, while it may not be illegal, it certainly has a tinge of dirty politics or impropriety,” said Euan Blackman, who lives in Richardson and previously worked as a teacher in the district.
“I’m not against them spending their money to do that, if that is what they want to do, but I think the voters of Richardson should know that the ‘vote for kids’ sign is funded by three construction companies and an architect firm,” Blackman said. “That’s not the people of Richardson. That’s not the PTA getting together to donate money.”
Richard Ramey, co-chair of Vote 4 RISD 2016, said it is common practice for corporations to contribute to campaigns and that the corporations give back to the communities in which they do business.
On May 7, McKinney voters will head to the polls to decide on a $220 million school district bond package. It includes plans for school upgrades, new technology and a 12,000-seat stadium and event center.
Like many North Texas cities, McKinney started out as a farming community. Its first school was a cabin built by a judge in 1858.
These days, it’s not hard to find McKinney on the list of fastest-growing cities and, two years ago, as the best place to live in the country. That growth — and attention — is one of the reasons some here say it’s time to build a new sports stadium.
The current one, Ron Poe Stadium, was built in 1962 and seats nearly 7,000 people. It sits behind the district’s administration building, next to a middle school and baseball fields, and across the street from an apartment complex.
The new 12,000-seat McKinney ISD stadium will serve the needs of the district now and when the district is home to five or six 3,000-student high schools and also serve the district for the next 60 years.
Part of it, $50.3 million, would go toward the stadium and would include 2,400 parking spaces and a community event room.
A year ago, voters tore the Cleburne Independent School District very nearly in half, rejecting a record $150 million bond by just 144 votes.
The school board is back again, asking voters on May 7 to accept $130 million in debt to build a new high school, convert the old one into a technology and fine arts center and renovate two elementary schools.
Everyone in the district, at the end of Chisholm Trail tollway 30 miles south of Fort Worth, expects this election to be close, maybe even closer than last year.
The surprise has been how little the election has focused on the heated core of registered voters, but on the supposed influence of outsiders who don’t have a vote.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain spoke for a bloc that includes school officials and bond proponents when he posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, “Cleburne voters do not need outside people telling us what is good for our community.”
By outside people, Cain apparently meant tea party activists — specifically Joe Palmer, a precinct chairman for the Johnson County Republican Party.
It took another outsider, Bud Kennedy, to help Cain fill in the blanks. Kennedy, whose Fort Worth Star Telegram column has been swamped by tea party animus, called Cain Texas’ new hero.
“Finally,” Kennedy wrote, “a Republican community leader has the backbone to stand up to the petty Tea Party activists smearing local governments and schools.”
Nocona ISD voters will hit the polls in May for a bond issue for a brand new high school. This new high school will be a 75,000 square foot building, featuring 23 classrooms, a cafeteria, and gym, among other things.
One proponent of the $15.1 million bond said this wouldn’t just effect high school students; all grades from Pre-K and up would shift buildings, consolidating students into fewer buildings and making for a safer environment.
On top of safety, it also places priority on the education of Nocona’s students.
“I’m optimistic that if you understand what it does for the kids in the community, and the community, that you’re going to see the benefit and hopefully agree with it,” retired teacher Larry Veale said.
“It also shows the value the community places on education,” he said. “If we’re not willing to educate the next generation, what are we willing to do? If not us, who? If not now, when? And if our children aren’t worthy of our sacrifice, then what is?”
There’s opposition to the bond, mostly because of the close to 40-cent tax raise.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) 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.