The $80 million Eanes ISD bond package has potential to result in contributions to the entire community—not just the student population.
The bond was approved May 4 by 82.52%, or 2,705 residents, voting in favor and 573 against, constituting the largest successful bond in at least 13 years. The previous three—passed in 2006, 2011 and 2015—were all in the $50 million range.
Funds will go toward projects falling into five categories. The student programs and support category includes updating uniforms, classroom audio and video technology, student and staff devices, library renovations, and lighting and technology in the Performing Arts Center. At $28 million, it is tied with the facilities category for the largest allocated budget.
Facilities include campus painting, flooring, roofing, plumbing, electrical, artificial turf, and heating and air conditioning projects.
“These are things we just need to do on a regular basis,” Assistant Superintendent Jeff Arnett said during a community presentation on the bond. “Much like you have to maintain your homes, we have to periodically maintain and refurbish our campuses.”
Arnett said every school in the district will see some improvement and recognition of what is on the bond.
Carrying an $8 million allocation, safety and security projects include perimeter fencing, campus emergency notification systems, security cameras, cybersecurity infrastructure and improved fire alarm systems.
Energy efficiency and conservation projects are getting $5 million and include LED lighting and lighting control sensors. The category dubbed instructional, co-curricular and extracurricular spaces garnered the most discussion and public comment before the package was approved.
For $11 million, the Westlake High School campus is slated for an aquatics center, robotics expansion and wrestling space, but debt will not be issued for the projects until the district determines a facility is feasible and realistic to construct, Arnett said.
Permitting from cities and Travis County are also needed before debt is issued, and each entity has its own zoning and permitting process with regulations, standards and codes to adhere to. Ideally, revenue from the aquatics center would offset its maintenance and operations costs, Arnett said. The district uses a pool in Rollingwood, but the rental agreement is likely ending after the 2019-20 school year.
“We felt the time was right to propose an aquatics center,” he said. “We’ve researched the greater Austin area and don’t believe another space would be able to accommodate our swim team. Certainly none would be convenient for our students to travel to each day for practices and training.”
The natatorium would be a center the entire community could utilize, Arnett said, adding the district envisions programs for various age groups being offered.
“That’s consistent with some of the other facilities in the community,” he said. “Look at the Westlake Athletic & Community Center. It does and will continue to provide rental income, and students use it extensively along with the community.”
Eanes ISD will keep every dollar approved in the bond and spend 100% of it on the allocated projects. If the district chose to fund projects using its maintenance and operations money, two-thirds of that budget would go back to the state through recapture.
“That’s why we propose a bond every four or five years,” Arnett said. “So we can take those funds and use 100% of them toward projects being proposed.”
Holly Noel, whose children attend Cedar Creek Elementary School, said the district did a good job of explaining the connection between passing bonds and protecting teachers.
“Teacher compensation and classroom size are incredibly important to our parents,” Noel said. “About half of this bond is marked to fund necessary repairs and expenses. While these are not the most exciting aspects of the bond, using bond dollars to pay for these necessary expenditures frees up the maintenance and operations revenue that we do have to pay and retain our teachers.”
Because of recapture and the high rate Eanes ISD is subject to, residents need to better understand that school finance for the district is not like home or corporate or other government finance, said Blake Billman, a former EISD revenue committee member and parent of a Hill Country Middle School student.
“This is one of the rare instances where you should borrow the maximum allowed to pay for what you need,” he said. “Even after interest, it’s cheaper than a 66% recapture rate where we would need $100 to pay for a $33 dollar expense.”
Despite the fact they do not account for the majority of the bond fund allocation, much of the focus on the bond has been on the sports facilities, Billman said.
Everything in the proposal is important, he said, adding for residents who do not have kids, keeping EISD as one of the top districts in the state is one of the best ways to ensure properties remain valuable, as most Westlake home listings mark EISD as a selling point. Billman said there is even more infrastructure spending the district could execute to help its long-term finances, such as building a parking garage for the high school so it can sell spots versus kids parking in surrounding neighborhoods.
With a May bond, certain procurement processes lend to a limited number of projects that can be completed over the summer months, EISD Chief Operations Officer Jeremy Trimble said. District staff has identified several projects that can be completed over the summer months and others that can be started.
Prior to approval and during discussions on how much the bond should be for and what it should fund, trustees and administration often factored in the possibility of seeking another bond several years from now.
“Everything has a lifespan,” Trimble said. “We have a general idea of when projects such as technology, roofing, painting, flooring and heating and air conditioning projects will be on the replacement cycle, so that helps us plan ahead.”
Monitoring that replacement cycle is the foundation on which a bond is built, Trimble said.
The Envision Eanes group has just begun to study the feasibility of a possible future bond. While the district will have a general idea of what technology needs and maintenance projects could be on that bond, district officials do not know what, if anything else, would be proposed or what the amount would be, Trimble said.
Though it is too early to speculate, this may become a more specific focus of Envision Eanes over the next two to three years, he said.