As one of the fastest-growing public school districts in the state of Texas, Conroe ISD is planning for the future. The board of trustees approved the call Jan. 15 for an $807 million bond to be on the May 4 election ballot.
Along with new schools, upgrades to existing facilities and districtwide improvements, CISD officials expect the bond to bring increased property tax rates, if approved.
“There are many substantial projects [on the bond package], but I think if you just look purely at a financial investment, you will see that this package leans very heavily on new schools and growth and sustainability at existing schools,” CISD Superintendent Curtis Null said.
Null said CISD plans to tackle districtwide issues such as safety and security, expanding existing schools and improving their longevity.
According to data from a Population and Survey Analysts demographics study released mid-December, CISD has grown by more than 15,000 students over the past decade, and the district could reach 76,000 students by 2028. College Station-based PASA is a market researcher that assists Texas school districts in long-term school project planning.
The bond also tackles growth in specific areas, including the Conroe and Caney Creek high school feeder zones. Null said the bond would address CISD’s growing student population.
PASA data shows 23.1 percent of CISD’s student population, or 14,512 students, currently reside in Conroe’s extraterritorial jurisdiction—second only to The Woodlands Township. Following directly behind Conroe’s ETJ is Conroe city limits, at 12.9 percent of CISD’s student population, or 12,489 students.
The district intends to target continued growth in the Conroe area with a new elementary school in the Conroe High School feeder zone, a new elementary and junior high school in the Caney Creek High School feeder zone, and upgrading older campuses such as Conroe High School.
The district proposes a new $37.2 million elementary school for the western portion of the Conroe High School feeder zone with a capacity of 1,000 students, currently named Flex 21, said Easy Foster, CISD’s director of planning and construction.
The bond also includes a new $35 million elementary school and an $80.6 million junior high school in the Caney Creek High School feeder zone. Foster said the elementary school, currently named Flex 20, will have a capacity of 1,000 students, while the junior high will be able to serve 1,600 students.
The new junior high is planned for a site connected to Milam Elementary and Grangerland Intermediate schools and will allow for Moorhead Junior High, which can hold 1,100 students, to be converted into an intermediate school, Foster said.
According to the PASA report, Conroe-area residential developments—specifically Woodforest northwest of Conroe, Grand Central Park along South Loop 336 and Fosters Ridge southeast of Conroe—will contribute to the district’s student growth in the next 10 years. The three developments are expected to add more than 4,300 new single-family homes to CISD by 2028.
The district also intends to build a $3.6 million agricultural and career and technical education complex in North Montgomery County adjacent to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.
If voters approve the bond, the district will begin work on designs and could begin construction on some bond projects as early as this year, Foster said.
The bond package also includes districtwide facility upgrades with $24.6 million going toward safety and security, which Null said could include installing more secure vestibules and security cameras across the district and at Conroe High School.
The district is prioritizing a Conroe High School remodel since it is the district’s oldest high school facility, Null said.
“There are portions of that building that are reaching their end of life, and this is a chance to extend the life of that building by another 50 or 60 years,” Null said.
The bond package proposes allocating $146 million to enter Phase 2 of Conroe High School’s master plan, which includes consolidating the facility’s six separate buildings into one, adding a robotics program, relocating two football fields, new classroom additions, and moving the entrance from south-facing along Davis Street to a new entry facing Wilson Road, Foster said.
“Instead of coming right through the middle of the campus … we’re able to take [the traffic]around the outside of the campus and have a more safe and functional loading and offloading area for students,” Foster said.
The financial effects
Voters have approved three bond elections in CISD totaling more than $1.29 billion in 2004, 2008 and 2015. The May bond package of $807 million will feature the district’s largest bond issue to date.
Using bonds to fund new facilities is not unusual in a fast-growth district such as CISD, according to the Fast Growth School Coalition. The group defines a fast-growth district as enrolling at least 2,500 students during the previous year, along with either an enrollment growth of at least 10 percent over the last five years or a net increase of 3,500 or more students.
CISD is one of the top 20 largest districts in Texas, according to PASA. Of these large districts, CISD had the second-highest percentage increase for student enrollment growth in 2017-18 at 3.04 percent.
FGSC Executive Director Guy Sconzo said districts across the state, including CISD, are relying heavily on property taxpayers to pay for school bonds due to a lack of state financing.
“It really is the only way to keep pace with the growth that has to be accommodated and served,” Sconzo said.
Sconzo said state funding for school districts dropped dramatically in recent years, leaving local taxpayers to fill the gap through property taxes.
The current property tax rate for CISD residents is $1.28 per $100 valuation. CISD Chief Financial Officer Darrin Rice said the district’s financial advisers project a $0.01 property tax rate increase for the 2019-20 year with a maximum $0.03 increase over the bond’s four-year life.
If the tax rate is increased by $0.03 cents over a three-year period, Rice said a resident within CISD’s boundaries with a home value of $300,000 can expect an annual property tax bill increase of $82.50. However, he said increases to the property tax rate beyond the first cent would be dependent on the economy and would have to be approved by the board of trustees.
“In the past, when we’ve set up a bond referendum, [like]at this last one, we said it’ll cost us 1 cent, and it didn’t cost us any,” Rice said.