RRISD seeks new schools, campus additions

Editor's note: This story was updated 3/8/14 to clarify the RRISD Citizen Bond Committee's recommendation of including a natatorium in future bond elections.

Round Rock ISD's board of trustees unanimously approved a $299 million bond package Feb. 25.

Residents in RRISD can vote on three propositions May 10 that include funding for new schools, additional buses and fine arts facilities as well as construction at campuses. The board has been discussing a potential bond election since the fall.

"We want to take care of the students, but we also have to take care of our finances and our taxpayers," trustee Chad Chadwell said at the board's Feb. 20 meeting. "I want to make sure that we don't put so much on this bond that one or two or three of the propositions—all of them—fail."

At that meeting, trustees discussed the proposed bond package, interest rates and new state requirements for bond elections.

Board President Catherine Hanna said the district aimed for a May bond election because five trustees are up for re-election this November.

"It's really become apparent with the growth that we've had in the past five years how high the needs [in RRISD] are," Hanna said. "I think that is really one of the most difficult things we're facing as a board."

RRISD needs

A Citizens Bond Committee was charged with assessing RRISD's needs for 2015–17 in the areas of health and safety, district growth, curriculum and technology, and infrastructure. The CBC had 107 volunteers and hosted six public forums in January about the potential bond election. Committee members also studied RRISD's growth projections and department needs.

On Feb. 12, CBC members proposed a $287 million bond package broken into three propositions. The board reviewed and adjusted the package to include additional projects, such as Phase 2 of Stony Point High School's agriculture facility, and approved $299 million in projects.

If voters approve all three propositions, the property tax increase for a homeowner with a median-valued home of $200,264 after a homestead exemption would be about $42.60 per year, or $3.55 per month.

CBC co-chairwoman Barbara Beto said projects included in the bond package represent items the CBC felt RRISD could not live without.

"We weren't looking for an item for each school," Beto said. "Priorities were based on the needs of the district and the students. Those needs were not based on dollars. We asked the committees to go base those needs on what had the highest priority and urgency."

CBC member Ira Williams said the bond proposal includes funds for construction included in master plans at several campuses. Because voters approved master plans in previous bonds, it is important to maintain credibility within the community and finish those projects, he said.

At the CBC's public forums, residents expressed significant support for a natatorium. However, the committee opted not to include it in the proposed bond package because of a lack of input from stakeholders outside RRISD.

"This is an item that needs discussion from stakeholders in the community and government entities that are going to benefit from having something like that in the district," Beto said. The CBC, however, did recommend in its summary presentation to the board that the district continue working with stakeholders and parents toward the goal of including a natatorium as part of a future bond election.

The CBC dedicated one bond proposition to building performing arts venues because about two out of every three requests to use the Raymond E. Hartfield Performing Arts Center are turned down because of space limitations or scheduling conflicts, according to RRISD officials.

"I really want everyone to support this bond because we've got to address the needs of today so that we can work on the future and bring those items that weren't on this bond to the next," said trustee Terri Romere at the Feb. 25 meeting.

District growth

In the past 13 years, RRISD's population has increased by 15,000 students, or about 1,000 new students per year, according to data from 2013. In January, district officials said they expect enrollment to increase by 850 students by January 2015.

Since 2006 and 2008 when voters last approved RRISD bonds, growth has shifted to the northeast and central areas of the district near Stony Point High School, Walsh Middle School and Wells Branch Elementary School, board Vice President Diane Cox said.

In 2006, much of the growth occurred in the southeast area of the district, which then built several elementary schools and one high school.

Voters approved about $294 million in 2008 for campus improvements, technology and transportation upgrades, and purchasing land for future use. Specific districtwide projects included upgrading and enlarging campus health clinics and installing video surveillance systems at transportation buildings and at the Raymond E. Hartfield Performing Arts Center.

Additional improvements included Phases 2 and 3 of construction at Round Rock High School, a weight room addition at McNeil High School and land for Success High School.

The 2014 bond package includes funding for an 11th middle school and a 34th elementary school to provide relief to Walsh and Wells Branch, as well as to Deerpark Middle School.

Cox said a wise way to address growth is to construct buildings once the number of portables at schools becomes unmanageable.

For the 2013–14 school year, RRISD has three elementary schools that are at more than 125 percent capacity, said Ramiro Flores, RRISD's deputy superintendent of administration. Eight of its 10 middle schools are at more than 100 percent capacity, he said.

"At some point, the number [of portables] becomes unrealistic to be able to continue to manage growth, and you have to start looking at hard-wall capacity," Cox said. "I think Round Rock [ISD] has gotten to that point again."

By Lyndsey Taylor
After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lyndsey began working as a reporter for the Northwest Austin edition of Community Impact Newspaper in 2012. During her time as a reporter, she has covered Round Rock ISD, health care in the Austin metro area and Austin Community College. She was promoted to editor of the Cedar Park| Leander edition in 2015 and covers city and education news, including Leander ISD.


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