Voters in Round Rock ISD will decide May 6 whether the district can increase its tax rate to pay for $572.09 million in bonds to fund new school construction as well as a plethora of improvements and upgrades in existing schools.
“This is a historic time in the district,” RRISD Superintendent Steve Flores said Feb. 16, just before the district’s board of trustees voted 7-0 to call the election. “We have put a lot of thought [into the proposal], and this board has done its due diligence.”
The bond election is split into three separate ballot propositions: One emphasizes growth, renewal and safety; a second focuses on innovation and classroom expansion; and a third deals with fine arts and athletics projects.
If voters approve all three, property tax payments will increase by $2.23 per month when rounded to the nearest cent—or $26.74 per year—for an average RRISD home valued at $290,000, according to the district.
Early voting is April 24-29 and May 1-2.
Focus on growth
RRISD board President Diane Cox said in an interview that the May bond package addresses anticipated growth in RRISD’s student enrollment over the next decade and also manages existing growth-related issues.
Cox said new construction projects —including proposals to add an elementary school in northeast Round Rock and a new high school on Pearson Ranch Road in Austin—as well as plans to use bonds to fund portable classroom replacements at Forest Creek and Brushy Creek elementary schools are examples of the bond package’s dual priorities.
“We are able to address our growth moving forward but also address some issues with growth that have been kind of long-standing that we finally realized an opportunity to go back and to look at,” Cox said.
In RRISD’s most recent bond election in 2014, voters approved $299 million toward improvements at McNeil and Westwood high schools as well as new auditoriums at Cedar Ridge and Stony Point high schools.
Corey Ryan, RRISD’s executive director of communications and community relations, said Proposition 1 includes the highest-priority projects, including the district’s proposed sixth high school on Pearson Ranch Road in Austin. At $150 million, the school is the bond package’s big-ticket item.
It would be designed to support up to 2,600 students and open by the 2019-20 school year, according to RRISD.
Ryan said the new high school would help alleviate overcrowding at Round Rock High School, which had 3,134 students enrolled during the 2015-16 school year. Without overcrowding relief, the district’s projections show Round Rock High School’s student enrollment increasing to nearly 4,000 by 2021.
RRISD’s total student headcount was 47,645 in 2015-16 and is projected to approach 52,000 within the next decade, according to the district. Other bond projects in the Cedar Park area include $11 million to add 12 new classrooms at Patsy Sommer Elementary School on Avery Ranch Boulevard and $3.2 million for various structural upgrades at Forest North Elementary School just south of SH 45 N.
The district’s proposal would gradually increase RRISD’s tax rate over the next five years from $1.3325 to $1.3426 per $100 of property valuation as bonds are sold to fund projects. The increase would come from the debt service portion of the district’s tax rate, which would increase from $0.2925 to $0.3026. RRISD taxpayers’ monthly bills would increase by an average of $0.84, or by an average of $10.10 annually, for every $100,000 in home value, according to RRISD.
“This process was just so thoroughly vetted,” Ryan said. “When we look at the totality of this bond, we’re looking at an impact of just over two dollars per month for the average taxpayer. … I think that this bond was done mindfully and was done in a way that was purposeful for a district of our size that has seen the growth that we’ve seen.”
Political groups have taken sides on the bond package ahead of the May election.
The Travis County Taxpayers Union, backed by former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, opposes the bond, arguing the package is excessive and wasteful and questioning the full impact on tax bills.
Meanwhile, former RRISD trustee Catherine Hanna and Ron Buffum, who led a citizen bond committee that provided input on the bond package, are heading up a special-purpose political action committee called Classrooms for Kids, which is composed of RRISD residents who support the bond.
Buffum said dividing the bond package into three propositions was a strategic move, and the projects “naturally fell into those categories” contained with the propositions.