Voters living in Cy-Fair ISD’s boundaries can expect to see a $1.76 billion bond referendum on the ballot May 4. If the plan passes, it would be the district’s largest bond package to date.
At a Feb. 11 meeting, the CFISD board of trustees unanimously approved a recommended proposal for the bond developed by a committee of 50 parents, students, business owners, empty nesters and other community members.
Julie Hinaman, who served as community co-chair of the committee, said the group started with a list of $2.6 billion in district needs, which was trimmed to $1.76 billion. Top priorities identified by the committee include two new schools, a districtwide performing arts center, a new Instructional Support Center, and more than $200 million in safety and security initiatives.
“Because the [committee] is a diverse representation of our community, we were challenged to understand different perspectives and priorities while striving to achieve consensus,” she said. “This diversity of thought led our committee to develop a recommendation that meets the needs of the district and is fiscally responsible to local taxpayers.”
The average homeowner within the district would see an incremental tax rate increase from 2021-25 totaling $0.03 over time, CFISD Chief Financial Officer Stuart Snow said.
The bond package was designed to meet district needs through 2025, when student enrollment is expected to reach 120,000, according to a 2018 report by the demographics firm Population and Survey Analysts.
Pending voter approval, facility upgrades could start as early as this summer, CFISD Chief of Operations Officer Roy Sprague said.
“This bond proposal will allow the district to ... maintain its large investment in the district building and site infrastructure as well as address the projected growth and educational needs so we can continue to provide opportunities for all students in [CFISD],” Sprague said.
Since CFISD’s last bond referendum passed in 2014 for $1.2 billion, student enrollment has increased from 111,000 to nearly 117,000. With more students expected to be added in the next few years, officials said new campuses are needed to accommodate growth.
Snow said in the next 10 years, master-planned community Bridgeland is anticipating 4,800 new homes, and developers with Towne Lake and Dunham Pointe are planning for 3,000 new homes in each of their communities.
“I’m not sure whether the residential development is causing the commercial development or whether it’s the commercial development that’s causing the residential development,” he said. “But certainly as you drive [Hwy.] 290 and [the Grand Parkway] and out west in our district, you can see that that development is going on.”
Elementary School No. 59, a $45.7 million project, is planned for the southwest corner of the district as part of the bond package. This would provide enrollment relief to M. Robinson, Sheridan and Wilson elementary schools, according to district officials.
Middle School No. 20 would be built at the Bridgeland High School site for $97.4 million, relieving Smith Middle School. Both new schools would open in 2023 or 2024, officials said.
Overall district growth in recent years has resulted in the need for other new construction projects as well, Hinaman said.
For instance, she said when district staff moved into the Instructional Support Center on Jones Road in 1992, the facility had about 200 employees, and 584 individuals work there today.
A new $65.9 million ISC is proposed for the 26-acre plot of land owned by CFISD adjacent to Cy-Fair High School, to provide office and meeting space.
“As a result of this growth, the center of the district has also shifted,” Hinaman said. “This site was selected due to its central location and ease of access for all employees, parents and community members.”
A new performing arts center is proposed for the same parcel of land to accommodate growth in band, orchestra, choir, dance, theater and fine arts programs.
The new facility would seat about 1,500. The average high school theater seats 800, and the Berry Center’s theater seats 490. Hinaman said about 180 of the district’s more than 1,600 annual performances take place at external venues due to lack of capacity.
Proposed renovation plans address the repurposing of the old Windfern School of Choice campus as well as upgrades benefiting career and technical education, fine arts and athletics programming—including additional tennis courts and renovated baseball and softball fields.
Plans have been made for new classrooms to serve students in welding and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning programs. Funds would also be used to expand culinary arts classrooms, add greenhouses and expand the Exhibit Center and the Westgreen Ag-Science Center, according to the proposal.
“We have some campuses that are older than others, and so we might be renovating one of our older facilities to bring it up to the current standards,” CTE Coordinator Denise Kubecka said.
Bolstering safety measures
About 12 percent of the 2019 bond package is dedicated to safety and security—up from 4.6 percent in 2014’s bond package.
To help determine the most pressing needs in this category, CFISD worked with True North Consulting Group to evaluate current initiatives and provide recommendations for additional measures the district could take, Hinaman said.
The most expensive safety item involves adding walls and barriers around classrooms in open-concept floor plans in elementary schools—a project totaling $118.8 million.
CFISD Chief of Police Eric Mendez said the open-concept design would be modified at relevant campuses to provide “additional layers of security.”
“Segmentation allows for greater effectiveness when a lockdown occurs and adds the ability of teachers and students to secure within the segmented areas of the campus,” he said.
Security fencing would also be installed in vulnerable areas, such as around portable buildings and playgrounds, for $9.5 million.
Other security measures include additional impact-resistant glass on doors, classroom phones, enhanced video intercoms and secure vestibules, additional card readers on exterior doors, metal detector replacements and the numbering of exterior windows and doors.
Upgrades at the district police department level include police vehicle and radio replacement as well as the expansion of the Ben Bradley Center, the police station where the district’s security operations are housed.
Mendez said the Ben Bradley Center has grown from 66 employees in 2014 to 138 today, and the department projects more growth as student enrollment increases. Expansion plans provide additional office space as well as evidence and records storage.
“The expansion would also provide training space for the officers in the department to conduct mandated training by the state,” he said. “In addition, garage bays will be included for vehicle maintenance and vehicle camera installation and repair.”
District officials are projecting a successful bond election would result in an incremental tax rate increase over time. With no tax increase, Snow said the amount of the bond would have been lowered to around $1.35 billion.
The 2014 bond referendum called for a similar increase, but the district ended up not needing to raise taxes. The debt service tax rate was projected to increase by $0.045 per $100 valuation by 2018, but the board ended up lowering the rate by $0.01 in 2014, and it has remained constant since, Snow said.
“What actually happened was that after the board adopted a tax rate of $0.40 in October of 2014, that tax rate never changed,” he said. “Rather than increasing the tax rate over the period of time to support the 2014 bond election, our tax rate is actually $0.055 less than what we projected it to be in 2014.”
Tax rate management strategies in the last five years have included refinancing previously issued bonds, issuing variable rate bonds and selling bonds at lower fixed interest rates, Snow said.
“If the bond election is successful, we will continue to manage the tax rate as we have done in the past to limit the impact on the tax rate as bonds are sold over the five- to six-year period using the same strategy as we have done in the past,” Snow said.
Snow said he is conservatively anticipating the debt service tax rate to remain at $0.40 until 2021, when it would begin to rise $0.006 each year until it reaches a total increase of $0.03 in 2025.
This would ultimately amount to about a $52.50 increase on a home appraised at $250,000, assuming the homeowner files for homestead exemptions. In CFISD, these optional exemptions include 20 percent plus $25,000. Homeowners over the age of 65 who have additional exemptions would not be affected by the increase, Snow said.
Sprague said the long-range planning committee worked to cut costs by only including high-priority asset protection projects. For instance, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and roof replacements with a life expectancy of more than five years totaled $780 million and will be considered in a future bond study.
A districtwide storage facility, additional emergency call stations at each campus, LED lighting upgrades and the installation of barriers at pedestrian entrances were also cut from the initial list of projects, Sprague said.
“Any new schools that were projected to open beyond 2025 were not included as part of this bond recommendation and would be considered as part of any future bond programs based upon the growth needs of the district,” he said.