The largest bond referendum in Cy-Fair ISD history—and the first in nearly seven years—will be put in front of voters May 10. The $1.2 billion bond package contains provisions for the district's security, technology, facilities and transportation needs through 2020.
"In all honesty, we are two or three years behind for a bond, but the economy was in a downturn and we didn't think it was appropriate two or three years ago to take this out to the citizens," Superintendent Mark Henry said. "The No. 1 reason we think [a May election] is appropriate is because we have pressing needs as a district."
In early January, a 50-member committee convened with the goal of creating a proposal with guidance from district administrators. The plan was presented to the board and detailed the needs of the district for the remainder of the decade.
Debbie Blackshear served as co-chair of the committee and said the group dedicated many hours and put much thought into the process.
"They have done an outstanding job and asked good questions of district personnel throughout the presentations," she said. "I was also happy to see how open the administration has been to the committee and to our ideas."
Administrators began studying the need for a bond election last year to keep up with student growth in CFISD. Demographic firm Population Survey Analysts projected in 2013 that more than 15,000 new students will enroll in the district by 2020.
"[From 1998 through 2007], this district had a bond program every three years because of the tremendous growth we have been experiencing," Henry said. "That growth has continued over the last seven years, but we have not had any type of bond program."
If voters approve the bond package, some of the money—specifically earmarked for technology and transportation—will be put to use almost immediately. The money will be used to update instructional technology along with the district's infrastructure, the backbone of which was put into place in 1998. Additionally, the district's 2-mile limit for bus service will be lifted, providing more students access to transportation.
"The May election is truly a benefit for the children from a transportation perspective for the kids who don't have bus service," parent Sharon Stringfellow said. "I was pleased to know safety, transportation and technology were high up in the process. This will benefit every student in Cy-Fair."
The future tax implications of the bond package were based on a number of assumptions and projections, including Harris County Appraisal District property value projections for the next three years.
"When we use that information to help model the tax impact and tax rates, we feel that we are using some fairly conservative estimates as far as the values we are plugging into that," said Stuart Snow, associate superintendent for business and financial services.
The bond is structured so that the number of years of principal and interest payments match the estimated useful lifespan of the assets being constructed, renovated or purchased. The life of the bonds used to pay for facilities is 25 years, instructional technology is five years, infrastructure technology is 10 years and buses are 15 years.
If the bond passes, the district's debt service tax rate is projected to increase incrementally for three years, beginning with the 2015-16 school year. The cumulative tax rate increase for the three years is 4.5 cents, amounting to $65.25 annually on a home valued at $200,000.
If property values come in higher than projected, there is a possibility the debt service tax rate will not increase as much as projected, district officials said.
The potential tax increase has no effect on the district's optional homestead exemption—a provision that gives homeowners a 20 percent reduction on property taxes—and there will be no tax increase for homeowners age 65 and older.
Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, Cy-Fair ISD will be required to enter into two UIL districts for academic, athletic and fine arts competitions when the 11th high school opens.
"This division creates more opportunities for our students, but it also creates the need for additional and upgraded facilities to accommodate those programs," Henry said.
The bond package calls for building a second natatorium on the east side of the district connected to Pridgeon Stadium. Administrators originally recommended constructing the natatorium at High School No. 12—tentatively set to open in Bridgeland—but committee members were concerned because it is in close proximity to the existing natatorium at Cypress Ranch High School.
"The committee felt it was important the second competition pool be located on the other side of the district to serve students who live on the other side of the district," Blackshear said.
The bond proposal calls for updates to Pridgeon Stadium as well because there are issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards and insufficient parking.
Although the district's agriculture program does not fall under the UIL umbrella, there is still a tremendous amount of student participation, with more than 600 projects entered during the annual livestock show in February.
"We didn't have enough space to accommodate all the projects our students were doing during the livestock show this year, so we would be adding some barn space to meet needs," Henry said.
During the weeks leading up to the election, the district will host public meetings and engage in a slew of other efforts to provide information to voters about the referendum.
Because the district is running its own election, there will be early voting from April 28–May 6 at various elementary campuses as well as at the Berry Center and Instructional Support Center. Voters will be assigned a specific site for election day based on the county voting precincts.
"My hope is that people will take the time to study the proposal and that they will take time to vote," Henry said.
Although the district will do as the community wishes, Henry said, administrators will have to look at alternative ways to provide some of the needs from the bond package if the referendum fails.
"We felt like the proposal was all needs-based, but even in a needs-based proposal there are some things more needed than others," he said. "These are things we have to find a way to do."
In the past year, several bond referendums in the surrounding area—Lone Star College, Harris County and Katy ISD—failed, which left Trustee Tom Jackson asking why the community would support CFISD's bond.
"I think this community has a long-standing history of supporting and valuing education," Blackshear said. "I believe our voters will support this bond once they are educated and understand what is included. We know education will be key, and we are prepared to speak to any groups about what is in the bond recommendation."