Hays CISD is posing to its taxpayers a $59.1 million question.

On May 10, voters will decide whether to say yes to construction projects such as a new $35 million middle school, most probably in the district's northeast quadrant. More than $7 million dollars in technology upgrades, including a strengthened Wi-Fi infrastructure to support a bring-your-own-device initiative, are also being proposed. The bond program calls for about $3.3 million in bus purchases, in response to and in anticipation of continued enrollment growth.

Shaping the proposal began in September with a series of meetings of a board-appointed committee composed of 23 members of the district's staff, parents and community members. Trustees unanimously approved calling the election at a Feb. 24 meeting.

The proposed bond is a program Superintendent Michael McKie says is the bare-bones minimum the district needs to run efficiently.

"You look at everything that's on the current proposal—those are all needed items," McKie said. "I believe these are all items that people would want if they were attending school there themselves. There's really nothing that's way out there."

The new school

The new middle school would be the district's sixth and would relieve overpopulation in grades six to eight, but Barton Middle School in particular would be spared an overcrowding crisis, officials said. Barton, Dahlstrom and Wallace middle schools' enrollment numbers exceed their respective building capacities, according to a 2013 demographer's report.

The same report states that by the 2015–16 school year, four of the district's five middle schools will be over capacity, with Simon Middle School being the lone exception. The following school year would see enrollment at Barton exceed 1,000, the report states. Current enrollment at the school stands at about 940.

A defeat at the polls would likely require adding portables, creating more lunch periods and having floating teachers. Teachers who "float" do not have a classroom and therefore roam from room to room each period to teach their classes.

"We would have to look at and make a lot of very difficult decisions to address the overcrowding at Barton [if the bond fails]," McKie said.

In addition to those alternatives, the district could rezone to ease the overpopulation at Barton Middle School, even though such a move is not likely to be received well by parents, the superintendent said.

Ranked fifth in the region for enrollment growth in the last five years, HCISD was fourth in the Austin area for housing sector growth, according to the demographer's report. Sunfield, located east of I-35 in the Barton Middle School attendace zone, was the fastest growing district subdivision.

A property in the subdivision has been agreed upon as the site of the new middle school, the district has said. However, the site is away from current growth in Sunfield, so district officials hope to secure a new location closer to the hub of housing development in the subdivision, they said.

To pay off the 25-year bond, taxpayers would see a property tax rate increase of $0.0764 per $100 of home valuation. That means an owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay $76.40 more in annual dues to the district.

The amount and length of the note was determined in meetings of the growth impact committee, the 23-person panel district trustees put in charge of carving out a recommendation.

'Bang for our buck'

In November, before the committee members arrived at a recommendation for a $59.1 million bond, district administrators provided a list of recommended projects totaling $67 million—$3 million more than the district's bonding capacity.

The committee adjusted and shaved line items from the list, namely more school bus replacements and a $1.4 million measure to replace the roof of Buda Elementary School's lower campus.

With a facilities study examining each district building's health set to begin this summer, the committee opted to wait for the results before recommending major reconstruction at the 33-year-old campus.

One recommendation that may come out of the study is the construction of a new high school. That could be on the horizon for the next bond program, likely three years down the road, district officials have said.

Whether future projects are funded in the form of a bond, general operating funds or savings, board President Willie Tenorio said the district plans on maximizing every dollar it receives. He said the bond's authorization would raise taxes, but the return on investment would be high.

"I think we're getting a lot of bang for our buck," he said. "Unfortunately we have to raise taxes a little bit in order to meet the needs of our community."

In 2006 and 2008, voters approved bonds worth $46.3 million and $86.7 million, respectively.

The last time a bond was defeated in HCISD the price tag was higher than $100 million in 2003, but the district passed an $86.9 million measure in 2004.

McKie, who began his tenure with the district in May, said he has gathered from talking to community members about previous bonds that the district has lost the trust of its taxpayers in the past. By attempting to make every part of the bond process transparent, the district sought to earn it back, he said.

"Hopefully we're illustrating that we are totally transparent," he said at a public hearing Feb. 3. "We're very serious about this particular bond referendum and making sure not just that we are meeting the needs of our students but [that] we're listening to our taxpayers and meeting everyone's needs."