A $131.43 million bond election for funds geared toward program maintenance and efficiency for Westlake’s Eanes ISD will be held in May.

The purpose behind the bond is to help maintain all of the EISD facilities and the systems within those facilities, Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Trimble said.

EISD is on a four-year bond cycle; the last bond was approved by voters in May 2019 for $80 million.

“This will be the largest bond in the history of this school district,” Trimble said.

Most of that has to do with inflation and the fact that everything costs so much more, he said.

Identifying the need

The school district has infrastructure that needs to be upgraded as well as older facilities that need to be modernized, several EISD officials said.

The bond will have three different propositions, according to EISD district documents.

Proposition A will target safety and security upgrades, physical repairs and refurbishments at every campus. Funds for Proposition B will be used for repairs at Chaparral Stadium, including track surface replacement and pole lighting replacements. Proposition C funds will be used for replacing student and staff digital devices as well as devices in labs, classrooms and offices.

Community members have been very involved in identifying projects needed for the bond, Chief Communications Officer Claudia McWhorter said.

“We’ve been meeting with our booster club, presidents and leadership groups, and they understand what we’re calling for,” she said.

The decision to call the bond election has been a multimonth process, Chief Financial Officer Chris Scott said.

“No one has ever come to a [bond] meeting and said, ‘Don’t do this,’” he said.

Jennifer Grammer, an EISD graduate and parent to a Cedar Creek Elementary first grader and a second grader, said the bond addresses maintenance issues and improvements on all campuses.

“Using bond dollars for these necessary expenses frees up other funds for things like teacher salaries and student programs. With the amount of dollars that leave the district due to recapture, EISD has to maximize every dollar available,” she said. “This bond accomplishes that while keeping our tax rate the same. I hope our community votes in favor of all three propositions.”

Upgrading the district

Each bond falls into three categories, according to district documents; Proposition A items are considered an immediate priority and will be funded from the school’s maintenance and operation fund if the bond does not pass.

Proposition B items need to be addressed in the near future, and Proposition C items can be delayed for the foreseeable future; however, the funding of these items would greatly improve or enhance student programs, district officials said.

Proposition A funds, totaling $117.77 million, will go toward upgrades of different facilities, modernizing campuses, technology hardware, and cybersecurity and safety upgrades, according to EISD documents.

One of the largest portions of Proposition A is the technology package for $23.39 million. Firewall upgrades, new school phones, CenturyLink Internet and network updates are all included in the technology infrastructure package.

Safety signage; facility upgrades; cybersecurity management; safety barriers; and vestibule, or lobby, reconfigurations will also cost the school district millions of dollars in upgrades and repairs.

“After [the Uvalde school shooting], we changed the way several of our security systems work,” McWhorter said. “The funds from the bond will help maintain those systems.”

Arts and athletic facilities, as well as district libraries, would also receive funding from Proposition A to modernize buildings.

Proposition B would pay for repairs and maintenance to Chaparral Stadium, including replacing the track surface and the video board at the stadium.

Proposition C would use $11.25 million for student and staff digital devices, including iPads for students.

Saving money

One of the benefits of the bond package will be the potential $2.9 million in savings for the school district, Scott said.

One example of how the district would save money is through the $6.62 million for solar installations in Proposition A, Trimble said.

“If we use bond dollars to implement solar energy, we’re going to save utility dollars that will be paid for electricity, which must come out of the operations budget,” he said.

Eanes ISD is subject to recapture, the method that allows the state to require property-rich school districts to pay part of their locally collected property tax revenue above their state allotment back to the state.

The median housing price for the 78746 ZIP code, which encompasses EISD, was $1.42 million in January, according to data from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Due to the high property values in the Westlake area, $0.64 out of every tax dollar EISD collects goes back to the state through recapture, Trimble said.

School bonds, however, are considered a debt; as a result, the district gets to keep 100% of the funds, he said.

“The bond dollars are very valuable to us,” he said.

This is because they can only be used for certain projects, Scott said.

Bond debt is issued for capital expenditures, or large items, such as construction of stadiums, security systems or facility upgrades, that will last more than a year, he said.

This means the bond cannot be used for expenses, such as teacher salaries or the school’s available fund balance.

However, if voters approve the propositions, especially Proposition A, it will save EISD several million dollars, which could then be reallocated to benefit district staff through compensation, Superintendent Jeff Arnett said.

Trimble also said the bond will not increase the district’s $1.0046 tax rate.

“That was a board priority in developing this that there would not be a tax rate increase,” he said.

In 2019 the Texas Legislature passed a measure requiring all bond proposals to have language that says, “This is a tax increase.”

EISD officials want to make it clear that homeowners will not see a tax rate increase as a result of the bond proposal, Trimble said.

“This is going to be a big part of our bond messaging; we have to focus on that and make it clear that [there will be no tax increase]. We don’t want any surprises,” McWhorter said.

Upcoming election

If the voters decide not to pass the bond in May, there are several projects that will still need to be funded, Scott said.

Arnett said the costs would come from the district’s regular maintenance and operation budget.

Because EISD is an older district and all nine campuses have experienced a decrease in enrollment over the last few years, priority funds would go toward emergency items, such as the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, Scott said.

Trimble said he wanted to clarify that the cost of the proposed $131.43 million bond does not correlate with decreasing enrollment.

For the 2019-20 school year, there were 8,166 students in EISD. That number has decreased to 7,770 for the 2022-23 school year, according to previous reporting by Community Impact.

“It’s possible future bonds could be affected by low student enrollment,” Trimble said. “However, [this bond] is not.”