Director of Construction and Facilities Terry Worcester identified what he views as critical needs that must be addressed in the coming two to three years. The needs were culled through a rating system that ranked projects throughout RRISD based on immediacy.
Worcester embarked on this ranking endeavor after trustees instructed district staff to look into a potential bond that would just address critical needs projects.
Specific projects in the district
These needs included improvements to HVAC and roofing systems on 13 campuses, HVAC systems on 12 campuses, plumbing systems at 11 campuses and roofs at 7 campuses; fire alarm systems at 10 campuses and other safety needs throughout the district; new busing systems throughout RRISD; water quality ponds, underground water storage tanks and abatement throughout the district; and a new elementary campus on the east side of the district to accommodate student growth.
Worcester provided a cost range estimate of $160 to $200 million for all the projects, but added that all projects would need to be fully vetted to get an exact cost.
Board President Diane Cox asked about addressing student growth in the middle of the district, which an Elementary School No. 35—located on the east side of the district—would not address.
"We've had a very short time to work this list," Chief of Schools and Innovation Danny Presley said, referencing the shortened time period the district has been investigating this critical bond idea.
CFO Randy Staats said at a previous board meeting that potentially calling an election for May 2018 would require the district to sign off on a bond package by early February. The district closes down operations for winter break starting Friday through early January.
State law only allows these kinds of elections to occur in May or November, Staats said.
Funding the debt
Based on calculations on the tax rate and on legislative issues going on at a national and state level, Staats estimated the district could manage an additional $266 million of debt without increasing the current tax rate.
The current tax rate to support debt obligations is set at $0.2648 per $100 home valuation. Staats said this is the lowest rate in district history since the 1985-86 school year. In the area, RRISD ranks relatively low in comparison to peer districts, with surrounding districts Pflugerville ISD, Leander ISD, Hutto ISD and Georgetown ISD all having higher debt tax rates.
Austin ISD's debt tax rate is set significantly lower at $0.1130 per $100 home valuation.
The debt tax rate is just one part of a resident's property tax bill. A total tax rate is set by adding the debt rate and the maintenance and operations rate together. The M&O rate helps fund the operations of the district, and is set at $1.04 in RRISD. RRISD's total rate is set at $1.3048 per $100 home valuation.
Superintendent Steve Flores encouraged the board to continue identifying critical needs at future meetings and bring in stakeholders to create their own list of potential bond projects.
Flores said input from residents of the district will be essential to the bond discussion.
"If it is not critical to the voters, it is obviously too soon," Flores said. "What is critical to some may be less critical to others."
Cox called for a Jan. 11 board workshop to include a discussion about critical needs within facilities. She said safety concerns could be expanded to include issues that come from overcrowding at several of the district campuses.
The deadline to call a bond election for May 2018 is Feb. 16, Staats said.