A $367 million bond slated to fund academics, fine arts, technology and more will be on the ballot for Hays CISD voters May 6. The board of trustees called for the district’s 10th and largest bond in its history Feb. 13. If approved in any capacity, the bond will not increase the district’s tax rate, according to the district.

However, rising property values could mean higher tax bills for residents even without a tax increase associated with the bond. The Hays Central Appraisal District reported a 53.27% increase in market values across the entire county from 2021 to 2022. Additionally, residential properties alone rose in value by 44.53% from 2021 to 2022.

Bond background

HCISD has been proactive about its growth with construction and design fees for a new school on each of the past nine bonds, and as growth continues to be a focal point for the district, community support has also shone through with only the 2003 bond failing outright, according to HCISD data.

The road to a bond being called began with the Facility Master Plan—a living document with a list of projects needed throughout the district and a tentative outline of what year that might be placed onto a bond.

The HCISD Facilities and Bond Oversight Committee, composed of trustee-appointed community members, was tasked in August with determining what needs could be met with a 2023 bond while taking into account student projection data, bond capacity and estimated costs.

Initially, the committee brought forth a proposal in December with more than 50 projects at $423 million, well past the high-end range the district needed to stay within.

“This year, we wanted to be conservative, and that amount was anywhere from $365 [million]-$410 million,” Superintendent Eric Wright said. “We wanted to land somewhere closer to that front end.”

Collaboratively, the board and committee placed some projects on the back burner and whittled down the bond total by about $60 million to fall within the desired range; after doing so, packaging the bond was addressed solely by the board.

Before the board called for the new bond, there were two public forums held in January detailing the projects. Parents, teachers and community members were welcome to attend and take part in the public forum to provide feedback to the board.

Michael Yargeau, an automotive teacher at Lehman High School, spoke at the meeting with concerns about the growth and need for more space for the automotive career and technical education program.

“At Lehman, we have an automotive program that’s in its fourth year. ... We’re looking at about 348 students for next year, so we’re going to need four full-time teachers,” Yargeau said. “The biggest concern is that we have one class for automotive.”

He added the growth the automotive program has experienced was unexpected and while the bond looks to the future, this is a current need at Lehman High School. While Proposition B addresses some CTE space, the projects are focused on veterinary studies, cosmetology and barbering.

“People want things immediately, but I really appreciate how people are understanding that, if a particular item doesn’t make this bond, it will hopefully be on the next one,” Wright said. “It’s not a ‘no’; it’s just ‘not right now.’”

Growing pains

Proposition A, focused on academics and growth, carries the most weight of the four propositions. A demographic report produced by demographics firm Population and Survey Analysts found HCISD had the fifth-highest student enrollment for the 2021-22 school year at 21,405 students out of all the districts from Bastrop, Blanco, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties.

“We are a fast-growing school district, and we are adding 1,000-1,500 students per year based on upcoming projections,” Wright said.

Projections from PASA estimate the district will see an enrollment increase of around 84.67% in the next decade.

Proposition A includes just over $87 million for the construction and design fees of two elementary schools and a high school in an effort to be proactive about the growth. Additionally, Rastegar Property Co. donated 11 acres within its Bunton Lane development in Kyle to be used for one of the elementary schools Feb. 24.

If the proposition does not pass, the district will still own the land but will need to budget for the construction of the school at another time.

At least eight schools across HCISD have line items in Proposition A for renovations and expansions with additional districtwide improvements.

Proposition C, focused on technology, is the smallest of the four and would address needed infrastructure upgrades to wireless networks, network security, data storage and more.

“We want people to understand the ‘why’ behind this [bond]. We’re not just trying to spend money to spend money. We want to make sure we have quality facilities and a great place to educate our kids,” Wright said.

Aiming for 100% Hays

The 100% Hays Initiative is a districtwide initiative that aims to have every student involved in some form of extracurricular activity. Proposition B in particular lends itself to that initiative, Wright said.

Proposition B seeks $102.85 million for fine arts, athletics, and career and technical education, and it also includes a last-minute addition that increased the bond total by $5 million and brought the final vote to call the bond 6-1. Trustee Esperanza Orosco was the dissenting vote.

“We did talk at our previous meeting, potentially switching out the multipurpose pavilions for the weight rooms [at all three high schools], and ultimately decided that we wouldn’t do that,” board President Vanessa Petrea said. “But, if we can’t do for all, we need to do what we can, and the Hays High School weight room is in dire need of attention.”

While the Hays High School weight room is deemed safe, training conditions are not ideal as students regularly need to carry equipment outside to be able to lift with the appropriate amount of students spotting and supporting another while lifting, Athletic Director Lance Moffett said.

Money from the Dahlstrom Middle School parking lot and drive loop improvement project in Proposition A was redacted, and an additional $5 million was added to Proposition B to fund the new weight room.

“I cannot support this bond how it is broken up. I don’t believe we should have done the weight room at the last minute without some more thought,” Orosco said at the Feb. 13 meeting. “However, once it does pass, and it will pass 6-1, I will support the body corporate.”

Other items within Proposition B include musical instruments to expand all high school orchestra programs, artificial turf installation at every high school for baseball and softball, and more than 16,000 square feet of additional space for extracurricular activities.

“A lot of the projects are fine arts, athletics and CTE. Those are the things that keep kids excited about school,” Petrea said. “We want them to come to school and not be told they can’t take a CTE class because there’s no space, and that’s what’s happening.”

Petrea added overall participation in fine arts and athletics is at around 80%.

Additionally, Proposition D would fund three 84,000-square-foot pavilions that would also add more space to be utilized by students.

Financing the future

The 2023 bond comes on the heels of the 2022 bond, also tackling growth, with a $252 million difference in price tag, which may be daunting for the district and community members. With the projects and propositions finalized, the district is now moving into the educational and informational portion of the bond.

“It’s going to take education because, coming out of the pandemic, prices have doubled,” Wright said. “I would venture to say that these projects we could cut in half if we were prepandemic.”

In Texas, there was an approximate 15.62% increase in the consumer price index from January 2020 to January 2023, according to the Texas comptroller and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPI measures inflation by tracking the changes in costs over a period of time on goods and services, such as food, housing, transportation and more.

“Through education, people will understand that we aren’t having more asks than we usually do; it’s just that the pricing has significantly increased due to that inflation,” Wright said. “I think we’re putting a package in front of the voters that is not only necessary, but will be extremely beneficial for our community.”