Two years after voters turned down a Frisco ISD tax ratification election, the district could be calling for another TRE as well as a bond election. This time, however, the district’s combined tax rate could be decreasing.

On Aug. 2, FISD staff proposed adopting a tax rate of $1.44 per $100 valuation, 2 cents less than the existing tax rate. FISD’s Facilities & Programs Evaluation Committee also proposed a $695 million bond proposition to fund renovations to aging facilities, construction for new buildings and new technology, among other projects. According to the district, the proposed tax rate, if adopted, is expected to remain the same for the next two to five years.

If approved by the FISD board of trustees, both the tax election and the bond could appear on the November ballot. The board’s next regular meeting is Aug. 13, and it has until Aug. 20 to call an election.

Committee co-Chairman Sean Heatley said all the recommendations made to the board Aug. 2 revolved around putting FISD’s students’ needs first.

“Whether that be athletics, art, natatorium, baseball, drama, academic decathlon, curriculum, student opportunity was the centerpiece of most of our conversation,” he said.

Tax election take two

Frisco ISD’s tax rate is a combination of two tax rates: an interest and sinking tax rate and a maintenance and operations tax rate. The interest and sinking tax rate, which pays for debt from the issuance of bonds, is proposed to decrease by 15 cents this year. In turn, the maintenance and operations tax rate is proposed to increase by 13 cents.

According to state law, an M&O tax rate adopted by a school board that is more than the district’s rollback tax rate must be approved by voters.

FISD called a tax election in 2016 for the first time in its history, proposing to increase the M&O tax rate by 13 cents. Nearly 60 percent of voters turned down the proposal, and the district moved forward with a combined tax rate of $1.46 per $100 valuation.

The difference this year is that the I&S tax rate is proposed to decrease as the M&O rate increases. This is what the district calls a tax swap wherein money from one tax rate is moved to another tax rate.

“[Reducing the tax rate] would make us the second-lowest school district tax rate in Collin County and the fourth-lowest school district rate in Denton County,” FISD Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Smith said.

If the tax election ends up on the November ballot, Smith said the language on the ballot could confuse voters. She said state law requires the proposition to be worded a certain way, obligating the district to add the I&S tax rate in the district’s adopted budget—$0.408—with the proposed M&O tax rate increase—$1.17—in the ballot language. This would lead the district to say the tax rate would increase to $1.57 per $100 valuation.

Should voters approve the tax election, the board of trustees would then lower the I&S rate to $0.27.

Building with bonds

Some of the projects proposed in the possible bond this year include building new schools, acquiring land for future schools and upgrading facilities that were built 25 years ago or more.

Committee co-Chairwoman Debbie Pasha said the proposed projects were all based on the need to accommodate the continuous growth of the district.

“[FISD is] still exceeding any of our fellow districts, and we know that the growth is continuing,” Pasha said.

A large chunk of the proposed bond would go toward constructing a high school, two middle schools and an elementary school, which are expected to cost more than $238 million combined.  The bond proposition also calls for $22 million to buy land for future schools.

Another big portion of the proposed bond is updating aging facilities. More than $100 million is slotted for regular maintenance and repairs.

The bond also includes expanding offices and updating lighting and furniture to its list of projects.

“The district is getting older; all thing aren’t equal anymore,” Heatley said. “… That’s kind of different in this budget process than times before where everything is new and it’s just about building new buildings.”

Security projects in the bond include adding bulletproof glass to interior classroom windows and updating technology.

Bond funds are also planned to be used for buying new buses, updating classroom technology and renovating baseball and softball fields with turf.

A 1,250-seat fine arts auditorium was the most debated project in the package amongst committee members, Pasha said, but the committee could not ignore the 22,000 FISD students who are in fine arts programs. The auditorium is estimated to cost $43 million.

Todd Fouche, deputy superintendent of business and operations, said the district has met with developer Craig Hall about a possible partnership on the facility, but whether a partnership would come to fruition was still unclear.

The $695 million proposed bond package is not the largest the district has ever considered. In 2006, voters passed a $798 million bond package that built 19 schools, among other projects.

FISD’s last bond election was in 2014 with a $775 million bond proposition. More than 75 percent of voters approved the bond, which has helped build 10 schools. About $170 million remains in the 2014 bond.

Heatley said the discussion over the proposed bond and tax election has just begun; voters still have time to vet concerns before an election is called.

“This is not the final answer; it’s not too late,” he said. “Let’s get out, get any dialogue going now while the ability to change is still there. That’s a big ask of everybody.”