District voters heading to the polls in November will be able to approve or oppose Leander ISD’s $454.4 million bond to help fund projects to prepare for growth in the school district as well as work on existing facilities.
LISD’s board of trustees called for the bond election Aug. 17 to meet the growing demands of the district. LISD is seeing 1,000 new students and adding 123 new jobs on average each year, according to the school district.
“We believe that this bond is one that really includes the [bond advisory steering committee’s]recommendations and the optional items that are absolutely a necessity for programs that we want to offer our students to ensure the growth and safety of our kids,” LISD Superintendent Dan Troxell said.
The bond total of $454,405,000 was divided into five categories—high school, middle school, elementary school, technology and ancillary needs.
The bond package could fund four new schools—three elementaries and one middle school—in the next four years; projections by the district’s demographer show LISD is expected to see an additional 4,800 students in that time frame.
LISD’s last bond election was in 2007, and Vic Villarreal was co-chairman of the district’s bond steering committee both in 2007 and 2017. He said this year’s committee was given three main goals—to concentrate on growth, campus safety and maintenance needs.
The committee had a goal to keep the bond’s scope to four to five years, he said.
“When we first got the recommendations from the subcommittees, there was a full-fledged high school on that recommendation,” Villarreal said. “As we started to really understand the scope of all our work, we realized that we could probably eliminate the construction of that high school and just include the design. That cut about $100 million.”
Some of the big-ticket items in the proposed bond include $196.8 million for the construction, design and furnishings for various campuses and $61.9 million to purchase land for future schools.
Steering committee Co-chairman Shaun Cranston said the committee wanted to give the trustees the ability to “strike when the iron is hot” regarding funding for future schools.
“If you have your dollars in place to purchase land—you know you need the land, your demographer is showing you where you need the land—what we wanted to do was give you the capacity to be able to purchase it when it is advantageous for you,” he said.
Along with construction and maintenance, the bond also proposes to fund other new facilities, including $6.9 million to construct agricultural education facilities at Glenn and Vandegrift high schools. Another $674,000 would be used to renovate the facility at Leander High School.
Board trustee Don Hisle said he learned that Tom Glenn High School’s Future Farmers of America program had 50 students in two grades involved in the agriculture program.
“They don’t have any place to put their animals,” he said. “Some of them are doing it at home; some of them are overcrowded at Leander [High School].”
Another $16 million will be put toward replacing device hardware as needed throughout the district, and $17.8 million will be used to construct a North Transportation Facility to service growth in the northern part of the district.
Of the $454.4 million, high schools are expected to receive $96.7 million; middle schools would receive $117.5 million; elementary schools would receive $172.5 million; $38.7 million would go toward technology; and $28.9 million would go toward ancillary needs.
If voters approve the single proposition on the November ballot, LISD expects to maintain its current property tax rate of $1.51187 per $100 valuation due to bond refinancing and the district’s plan to have a “pay-as-you-go” approach for this bond, meaning not all of the bonds will be bid at one time.
Testing the waters
LISD administration consulted with Robert Stein, a professor at Rice University, to gauge public opinion about a proposed bond package by conducting 500 telephone interviews June 25-July 6.
For a $454 million bond, 42.6 percent of respondents were in favor, 17.6 percent were opposed and 38.6 percent were uncertain.
Stein said responses found the largest percentage of undecided voters are parents with children, likely because they want to hear more details about specific projects within the bond.
“If you believe there’s a relationship between facilities, teaching and instruction, the teacher themselves and the outcome, you’ve got to be able to make that case,” Stein said to the board of trustees.
Stein said the survey allowed him to collect demographic information on voters to share with board members.
“Close to 40 percent of the households in your district with registered voters have children currently attending schools,” Stein said. “Another 25-30 percent had children graduate from the schools, so you’re dealing with people who are interested.”
When the bond advisory subcommittee groups began discussions on potential projects, they brought $1.2 billion worth of requests to the bond steering committee.
“We do have that list from the bond advisory committee,” LISD Board President Pamela Waggoner said. “We are looking at different ways to fund some things and different capacities; we just don’t want to put them on the bond itself.”
Troxell said the administration plans to rank the projects and items not included in the bond package for future consideration. He would also like the steering committee to continue meeting after the bond election is held.
“I would like the steering committee to continue to look at those items, including things like fiber [internet]and other things that we are not approving [in this bond]tonight to continue over the next three to five years to get an update and see what we’re taking care of,” Troxell said.
Villarreal said he agrees with the idea to not disband the steering committee that would meet with some frequency after the bond election.
“That could really build momentum if there is another bond in the future,” he said.
Registered voters within the school district can vote for or against the bond during the Nov. 7 election. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 10, and early voting is from Oct. 23-Nov. 3.
A political action group, Growing LISD’s Future, has formed to provide information and to advocate for the bond. As of Sept. 14, no group had organized in opposition of the bond.
Leander ISD is providing information on the bond package on its website, www.leanderisd.org.