What To Watch This Election: Bond Money For Some North Texas Schools | KERA News

What To Watch This Election: Bond Money For Some North Texas Schools

Oct 28, 2015

It doesn't have the glitz and glamour of a midterm or presidential election, but this election still has some weighty issues on the ballot. Along with seven state constitutional amendments, some North Texas school districts also have bond proposals for voters to consider. 

This year, Dallas has a proposal to spend $1.6 billion in bonds for area schools. Here’s what other school districts are proposing:

Highland Park ISD

The proposed bond package: $361.4 million

What it’s for: Highland Park may be landlocked, but its schools are growing. In 1989, the school district had about 4,000 students; today it has more than 7,000 kids.

“For every three homes that are sold, one additional child moves into Highland Parks ISD and that after a while, just begins to accumulate,” says Jon Dahlander, director of communications for the Highland Park school district.  

The biggest block of money would pay for renovations and additions to four schools. Also covered? Rebuilding three elementary schools and constructing the first new one since 1949.

The rest of Highland Park’s bond package would pay for more land, technology upgrades and additions to extracurricular programs.

Allen ISD

The proposed bond package: $272 million

What it’s for: A large portion of the package will be used to rebuild the Lowery Freshman Center, which Superintendent Lance Hindt estimates has been renovated seven times since it opened in 1960.

The proposal would also pay for a new elementary school in Northwest Allen and a satellite building for Allen High School’s STEM program.

The rest of would go toward renovations, technology and security upgrades and more land. Allen’s last bond program passed in 2008. Since then, the district has grown.

“Since 2008, we’ve added about 2,500 kids,” says Hindt. “Based upon demographer’s report, in the next five years we’ll add another 2,500. That’s not the significant growth that we saw 10 years ago, but it’s still growth.”

Grand Prairie ISD

The proposed bond package: $91 million

What it’s for: It would pay for new schools and renovations of existing buildings. The bulk would go towards Grand Prairie High School, with money also going to the following schools: South Grand Prairie High School, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Austin Elementary, Bowie Elementary and Garner Elementary.

An item called the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) is also on the ballot. Tax ratification elections are called if a school board wants to raise its tax rate by a certain amount.

The tax rate for any public school district is built into two parts: the maintenance and operation side and the debt service side.

“You can ask voters to approve that and it adds additional maintenance and operation dollars without adding to the debt of the district,” district spokesperson Sam Buchmeyer says.

He also says the money collected under this system could be spent on other district needs like teacher pay, early childhood education and student safety. That measure is asking for an additional 13 cents to the maintenance side, which would raise about $14 million dollars for the district.

Rockwall ISD

The proposed bond package: $257 million

What it’s for: A big portion will go towards building a new college and career facility, replacing an elementary school, major renovations to another, and future construction of two new schools. The rest will go to security and technology, new school buses, and other upgrades.

How do school bonds work?

The Texas Association of School Boards has this explainer:

Bonds for school projects are very similar to a mortgage on a home. To finance construction projects, the district sells bonds to investors who will be paid principal and interest.  Payout is limited by law to 40 years.

The sale of bonds begins with an election to authorize a specific amount —the maximum the district is allowed to sell without another election.  The school district sells them as municipal bonds when funds are needed for capital projects —usually once or twice a year.  Bids are taken from interested buyers, usually large institutional investors – and are sold at the lowest interest rate offered.  The rate is based on the district’s bond rating—the higher the bond rating, the lower the interest rate to sell the bonds.  Principal and interest on the bonds are repaid over an extended period of time with funds from the Debt Service tax rate.

Early voting ends Oct. 30. Find your local polling station and catch up on other issues this election. 

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