Texas Voters Approve Biggest of Proposed School, City, County, Transit Bond Issues
Featured Image (photo): Keller Independent School District’s approved $315 million bond will include replacement of Whitley Road Elementary School. Image: Keller ISD
By Edmond Ortiz
On Nov. 5, voters around Texas passed a super-majority of bond issues proposed by growing school districts, cities and counties, including huge bonds floated by the likes of Tarrant County College District, Arlington, Comfort and Midland independent school districts, the cities of El Paso and Sugar Land, and Williamson County.
A multi-billion-dollar-proposal from the Harris County Metropolitan Transportation passed, as did state amendments with funding consequences for water and flood control projects. Altogether, state agencies and local governments proposed about $16 billion in proposals on Election Day.
Some local governing entities, such as Conroe ISD and the cities of Denton and Hill Country Village, got split results. Others, the Fort Stockton and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school districts among them, completely fell to defeat.
Arlington ISD’s $966 million package passed with 66% of the vote. It includes $852.7 million for renovations and the expansion of classroom areas, athletic complexes and other facilities at all campuses. Arlington ISD also plans to demolish and rebuild Berry, Thornton and Webb elementary schools and Carter Junior High School.
“On behalf of the Arlington ISD, I want to thank our community for voting in support of this bond package,” Arlington ISD Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said in a statement. “Thank you for your continuing commitment to our students and faculty. This bond package is designed to improve facilities, provide access and equity for all of our students and build on the progress recognized through the 2014 bond program.”
TCCD’s single-proposition $825 million bond passed with 60% support. It will fund new construction, renovations and expansions at all six campus sites, with $308 million going toward improvement and expansion of 43-year-old Northwest campus.
Forney ISD’s single-proposition $623 million bond received approval from 73% of voters. It will dedicate $294 million to build two elementaries, an intermediate school, as well as an early childhood center to accommodate pre-kindergarten full-day programs. The bonds will also finance the relocation and new construction of Johnson Elementary School.
Ysleta Independent School District’s $425 million bond will include reconstruction of Dolphin Terrace Elementary School. Image: Ysleta ISD
Other Forney projects include improvements to existing elementary and intermediate campuses. And $307 million is being allocated for a new middle school, a new college and career center, and improvements to existing middle and high schools.
Conroe ISD’s Proposition A won 56% approval. This overall proposal will allocate $653.5 million for construction of five new schools, major classroom and program additions at nine existing campuses, and renovations at all campuses. But 58% of voters rejected Proposition B, which would have provided $23.8 million for athletic field turf improvements districtwide.
“We are thankful for all who turned out to make their voices heard in this election and grateful for the showing of support by our community. Conroe ISD is looking forward to continuing to serve the educational needs of our students and families while also being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” district communications specialist Katie Morton said in a statement.
The city of Sugar Land floated four propositions and each received more than 60% approval. Ninety million dollars in total bonds will provide $47.6 million for drainage improvements, $26.3 million for public safety enhancements, $10.2 million for road upgrades; and $6.6 million for a new 17,000-square-foot animal shelter and control facility.
The El Paso bond will provide $38.6 million for a new East Side regional command center; $19.9 million for a new public safety training academy; $90.6 million for a new police headquarters; $24.6 million for a central regional command center; $44.8 million for renovations to four existing regional command centers; $38.6 million for three new fire stations; $29.6 million for a new fire department headquarters; $74.4 million for renovations to existing fire stations; and $29.6 million for retrofitting the proposed public safety training facility to accommodate both police and fire personnel.
Also in El Paso, 58% of voters approved Ysleta ISD’s $425 million package, which will fund construction of a new Hanks Middle School, a new Riverside Elementary School, new Scotsdale Elementary School, reconstruction of existing Dolphin Terrace Elementary School, and modernization of Bel Air High School, along with upgrades to other existing campuses.
Williamson County’s bond proposals were approved by percentages of 62% and 59%, respectively. One bond will fund $412 million in road and drainage improvement projects and street safety upgrades. The other allocates $35 million for hike and bike trail and other public recreational improvements, as well as restrooms with showers at the Williamson County Expo Center’s RV park.
More than 53% of voters in Keller ISD approved that district’s $315 million bond, which will support replacements of Florence, Heritage, Parkview and Whitley Road elementary schools, additions and renovations to Fossil Hill and Keller middle schools, construction of indoor extracurricular activities facilities at existing high schools, and development of a new industrial trades and agricultural science center.
Comfort ISD’s largest bond proposal, $37.7 million, passed by 213 votes. This single-proposition package can support classroom additions, renovations and safety upgrades at the existing elementary school, middle school and high school, among other improvements.
Nearly 68% of voters said yes to a $3.5 billion bond floated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (MTAHC). The bonds–to be borrowed over 20 years–free the MTAHC to implement its $7.5 billion METRONext Moving Forward plan.
Among other things, the MTAHC plan calls for includes 16 miles of new light railway, including an extension to Hobby Airport, new construction or improvements to 21 park and ride facilities, and 110 miles of new or improved high occupancy vehicle lanes. The rest of the funding is expected to come from future revenues and matching federal grants.
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s proposed plan for MetroRAIL improvements and expansion that could be funded partially by the agency’s recently approved $3.5 billion bond. Image: MTAHC
Two of the 10 state constitutional amendments that voters passed affect future infrastructure funding efforts. Proposition 2 allocates $200 million in bonds to the Texas Water Development Board in support of projects in economically disadvantaged areas. Proposition 8 dedicates $800 million from the state’s rainy day fund toward flood mitigation efforts.
There is some uncertainty surrounding Midland ISD and its $569 million, single-proposition package that passed by 12 total votes. Local authorities have said there could be a recount.
Midland ISD proposed using the money for boosting capacity, safety and security needs at the secondary level; relocating and rebuilding Midland and Lee high schools; constructing a third high school; relocating San Jacinto Junior High School to the existing Midland High campus; and establishing a new specialized academy for sixth-to-12th-graders at the same site.
In Hill Country Village, 80% of voters approved one proposal where the city seeks to $8.5 million in road and drainage improvements citywide. But 62% of voters rejected a proposal to repurpose 14 acres of vacant city land at West Bitters Road for economic development.
The city of Denton got approval for its individual proposals for street improvements ($154 million), a new public safety facility ($61.9 million), and parks development $5 million), but a public art initiative was denied.
Among the Election Day losers, voters in the Fort Stockton ISD rejected an $85 million package by 23 votes. Fort Stockton ISD proposed a new intermediate school, repurposing the existing intermediate school for a testing center and other programs, elementary school renovations, additions and fixes to the high school, and upgrades to the middle school.
Voters in neighboring Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD rejected their district’s $357.6 million bond, which proposed construction of a new high school and a new middle school, renovations to Crockett middle school, reconstruction of Haynes Elementary School, upgrades and an addition to Austin Elementary School, and a standalone building for pre-kindergarteners.
Voters in the same school district denied their $400 million proposal in May 2019.
“Our facility challenges will not disappear and, together, the (school) board and administration will look at all options to address these issues,” PBTISD officials said in a statement.
Local voters also defeated: Beeville ISD’s single proposal to build a $37.9 million elementary school, and Lockhart ISD’s $92.3 million single bond proposal for new schools, an agriculture complex, and additions to existing campuses.
Travis County voters had additional local propositions that will impact development of event venues in the future. By 54%, Austin voters rejected one measure that proposed the requirement of voter approval of any Austin Convention Center improvements exceeding $20 million.
The same measure also proposed limiting to 34% the part of the city’s hotel tax revenue allocated to convention center operations, maintenance and improvements.
Last May, the Austin council approved a $1.2 billion contract to renovate and expand the convention center as part of a larger plan that includes preservation of the historic Palm School, fixing infrastructure along Rainey Street, and developing a park along Waller Creek.
Austin’s hotel tax action limited the amount of hotel tax revenue that Travis County could collect inside city limits. As a result, the county proposed its own measure–to enact an additional 2% tax on hotels in unincorporated areas to fund expansion and improvements at the Travis County Expo Center. More than 62% of voters approved that referendum.
Voters on Nov. 5 approved a measure that raises the hotel occupancy tax in hotels in unincorporated areas, with the new revenue going to a proposed renovation and expansion of the Travis County Expo Center. Image: Travis County
“Today’s election results prove Travis County residents want to revitalize and energize the Travis County Exposition Center,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said in a statement.
“With this new investment, the Travis County Exposition Center will continue to serve as an anchor institution preserving and celebrating our cultural heritage, generating educational opportunities for our young people and bringing thriving economic development to East Austin and Eastern Travis County.”
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.