It has been eight years since Plano voters approved Plano ISD’s last bond package. Now, they will weigh in on the district’s proposed $481 million bond package May 7.
The PISD board of trustees appointed a 29-member facilities and technology task force in August to come up with a plan and proposal for the bond package that would meet current and expected needs of its schools.
The bond package is divided into eight categories: renovations and upgrades, fine arts, technology, classroom and program capacity expansion, early childhood education, safety and security, buses and athletics. The bond package will be voted on in a single proposition.
PISD officials said the bond package, if passed, would not raise the district’s current tax rate of $1.439 per $100 of valuation—the second-lowest tax rate in Collin County. Plano ISD Superintendent Brian Binggeli said the proposed bond package is different than the 2008 bond because the district is in a different phase of its development.
“Our enrollment has stabilized. Accordingly, we did not need to include multiple new schools in this bond package as was the case in previous bond packages,” he said.
Nancy Humphrey, PISD Board of Trustees president, said the 2008 bond program was intended to last for four years. However, the district’s state funding was cut and the workforce was reduced in 2011.
“Those were leaner times and we realized it wasn’t a good time to go out for a bond,” she said. “It was just not a good economic time.”
Single proposition rationale
Trustees discussed at length the merits of a single proposition bond versus a bond package with multiple proposals. Trustee Missy Bender said in a regular meeting Feb. 2 that a single proposition bond program provides flexibility in using available funds if economic conditions change in the years to come.
PISD Chief Financial Officer Steve Fortenberry said a single proposition bond package does not affect the way money will be spent. However, it will provide for more movement in terms of savings and adjusting to the changing prices in the market.
Trustee Yoram Solomon cast the lone dissenting vote at the Feb. 2 meeting, during which the board voted to put the bond program on the ballot.
“I am not objecting to any specific item on the bond,” he said. “The only fact that I am objecting to is the single proposition. The only thing I was hoping for was the multiproposition bond package. It is a matter of giving people a choice.”
Major bond items
The major bond package items proposed to receive most of the funding would be renovations and upgrades, fine arts and technology. During a public hearing Dec. 17, parents, teachers and other community members expressed a need for a performing arts center in Plano complete with a stage, improved acoustics and ample seating space. About $94 million would be allocated to the district’s fine arts program, out of which about $68 million will go to land acquisition and construction. The remaining $26 million would be used to update fine arts facilities on individual school campuses.
About 18,000 secondary school students are involved in fine arts programs, Binggeli said. Some orchestra programs currently perform in gymnasiums in order to accommodate more people. Parent groups spend about $45,000 a year in renting a facility outside of PISD venues for concerts.
“At least 70 times this year, one of our fine arts programs will actually need to rent a venue because more people will want to come watch them perform than we have the facility to hold them,” he said.
Parents expressed another concern regarding technology upgrades in schools at the public hearing. The proposed bond package includes about $73 million for improvements to PISD’s wireless connectivity, and career and technical education programs as well as to replace and purchase additional devices for staff and students.
“The first critical part of the technology part was to get us on a five-year replacement cycle,” Binggeli said about investing periodically in updating technology.
If approved, this bond package would be rolled out over a five-year period. Some bonds will be sold within the first year while others will be sold later, Fortenberry said. For example, the bonds allocated for the fine arts center might be used after a site is acquired and the layout, architecture and construction plan is finalized, which would take more time. On the other hand, projects such as renovations and upgrades could begin within the next year, he said.
The $9 million allocated toward the replacement of 90 school buses would be spent over a five-year period to prevent them from reaching their 15-year life span all in the same year, according to the district. Portable classrooms will also be replaced with permanent classroom space.
Funds have also been allocated for the creation of a Special Education Transition Center. All three of Plano’s senior high schools have a special education transition program for adults 18 to 22 years old who need to remain in the school system. Creating a consolidated center for these students would enable the district to improve special needs education and create additional space in the senior high schools.
“We can offer expanded opportunities and partner with different companies for life skills training and find job opportunities for these adults,” Humphrey said.
Additional district projects
Initially, the bond task force recommended a bond package of $524 million. In a Jan. 19 special called meeting, trustees decided to reduce the amount of additional debt by $43 million.
In order to still fund what the trustees saw as worthwhile projects while not adding to the existing bond debt, the district decided to allocate $16 million in unissued bonds from the 2008 program and $27 million from the surplus funds generated through the 2013 Tax Ratification Election to make up the $43 million difference.
If the bond package of $481 million is not approved, the $43 million might be reallocated for other projects in order of importance.
A portion of the funds—$16 million—will be allocated to replace the four portable buildings at Plano East Senior High School.
“We never sold the $16 million of debt [from the 2008 bond package] so the taxpayers have never been paying interest on it. We generally sell the bond money when we need it. So this money just sat unsold,” Fortenberry said. “The cost to replace the portables was roughly $16 million, and so it matched pretty well.”
The remaining $27 million is expected to be spent on reroofing projects for district buildings.