The Citizens’ Advisory Committee compiled the list of projects to address rapid enrollment growth in the district, which has added more than 1,000 students each of the last three years, according to officials.
“The fact is that our growth is on such a large scale that finding places for children to be seated during instruction time is really our focus,” AISD Superintendent Buck Gilcrease said. “We grew [by] about 1,400 kids between the last day of school in June and the first day of school in August. To put that in perspective, we grew [by] a 3A school district over the summer.”
The influx of students into AISD is expected to continue for decades, according to district officials. Demographic studies show the district could continue to add about 1,000 students per year through 2025.
Housing developments along the Hwy. 288 corridor are helping to drive the increase in students, AISD director of communications Daniel Combs said.
“[Demographers] project that our district has a maximum build-out between 50,000 [to] 55,000 students,” he said. “At this point we’re at about 21,000 [students], so we’re not even to the halfway point as a district.”
In fall 2014, the AISD board of trustees voted to have the CAC—a volunteer group of local community members, business owners, elected officials and parents—develop a five-year facility plan, Board President Cheryl Harris said. [polldaddy poll="9126969"]
The CAC began working on the plan in February and presented its proposed bond package to the board Aug. 11. The group studied district enrollment numbers, boundary maps and demographic projections to form its recommendation, CAC member David Becker said.
The package includes construction of a new junior high and four elementary schools, where the biggest strain on AISD’s campuses exists, according to officials. Gilcrease said about two-thirds of elementary schools in the district are approaching or exceeding capacity.
While AISD aims to have 800 students per elementary campus, Dr. Red Duke Elementary School—which opened in fall 2014—topped 1,000 students this school year. Like other campuses, Duke’s capacity issues have caused the district to invest in repurposing noninstructional school areas and installing portable classroom buildings, Combs said.
AISD has 48 portable buildings throughout the district, which are able to accommodate 96 classrooms. With each building costing about $100,000 to construct, Combs said the portables are not a cost-efficient solution long term.
“When you’re in that [situation with portable buildings], the district, and ultimately the taxpayers, pay for the same instructional space twice,” he said. “At some point there will be a permanent school structure, but they’ve had to make the investment on the front end to pay for the portable classroom now.”
Additionally, money to acquire land for another high school and elementary school as well as the design of AISD’s eighth junior high school is included as part of the bond. The package also includes Phase 2 of the Career and Technical Education Center, a satellite transportation facility and renovations to the Alvin High School auditorium.
More than $9 million in upgrades to Alvin Memorial Stadium is included as well. In addition, a $41 million, 10,000-seat central district stadium is in the package. The new stadium would help accommodate Shadow Creek High School—which opens in fall 2016—and other future high schools.
Through a fiscally conservative approach over the years, AISD was able to lessen the amount of the bond, officials said. About $40 million—$28 million from the maintenance and operations fund and $12.6 million from previously authorized bonds—will be contributed toward the projects, Harris said.
“[AISD financial staff] delivers a great product for our school district [while] trying to save money every step of the way, which allows us to have some leftover money at the end that’s unexpended,” Gilcrease said.
The district projects the overall tax rate increase at the end of the 2015 bond cycle to be 8.3 cents per $100 valuation. While the actual tax increase is to be determined, the tax hike for the previous two bonds came in below the projected amounts, Combs said.
“We always make worst-case scenario projections,” he said. “We never want to be in a dynamic where we tell our taxpayers it might impact them X dollars and it ultimately ends up costing more.”
November will mark the AISD’s sixth bond election since 2000. The longest span between referendums was between 2009 and 2013, which put the district behind the rate of growth, Combs said.
“We went a four-year span where the growth kept happening,” he said. “We didn’t have an election [in 2011], so our 2013 bond package in many ways retroactively took care of that growth. Now we’re at a point where we’re looking forward for that continued growth.”
With master-planned communities developing in the district, the number of students is projected to increase until 2045, according to officials. Gilcrease said he expects a similar trend of bond proposals as long as rapid student enrollment continues. However, he said AISD will update its plans according to actual growth as opposed to projections.
If the bond measure fails, Combs said the district would continue to seek alternate solutions to overcrowding, such as more portable classrooms.
“The need for facility space is here right now. It’s a present need,” Gilcrease said. “With the amount of growth that we’re experiencing, it’s not going to go away.”