Katy ISD's bond proposal drawing mixed reviews from area residents

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Opinions on Katy ISD’s latest bond proposal vary throughout the community for reasons ranging from space needs to fears about the full extent of Tropical Storm Harvey on Katy’s tax base. The $609.2 million bond is being voted on in elections this November.

Results even differed for two versions of the same unscientific online poll created by Community Impact Newspaper. The poll was posted on both Nextdoor and www.communityimpact.com earlier this week.

As of Friday, a poll posted to Nextdoor had 322 votes with 49 percent not in support of the bond. Thirty-seven percent said they supported the bond, 11 percent said they were unsure of their feelings on the bond and 2 percent said they wished something was different about the bond.

In a poll posted to the Community Impact Newspaper website, 71 percent of the 103 votes were in favor, 17 percent were against, 10 percent were unsure and 2 percent wished for something different.

At KISD’s annual State of the District address Wednesday, Superintendent Lance Hindt said the bond’s projects were needed now to accommodate growing enrollment and avoid inflated construction costs.

“One of the biggest questions [is] ‘what would happen if we delayed the bond, even just for one year?’” he said. “Well the simple answer is this: we can’t delay 2,800 to 3,000 [additional] students showing up every year.”

Space a concern

Mark Stasney, treasurer of the 2017 Built 4 Katy pro-bond political action committee, said he thought the proposal was good overall. His support stemmed from his belief in the need for more instructional space.

“Facilities are needed with growth,” he said.

Stasney was not on the bond committee and said people’s reasons for opposing the measure were likely varied across the district.

“Some people are just against bonds, any bonds, regardless of their merit … even though that’s how we build schools,” he said.

Project preferences

Though opposed to the proposal, Robert Willeby, said he is not against bonds in general. Willeby served on the bond committee and said he wanted KISD to first assess property damages from Tropical Storm Harvey before issuing more debt.

“I think they need to pause on this, that’s what we’re saying,” Willeby said of an informal group of community members who oppose the bond. “The total bond number is too large, and includ[es] some of the more expensive projects we have to reject projects that would impact more kids with a smaller number.”

The bond committee crafted KISD’s proposal from 332 individual project submissions from district staff, which were designated as priority 1, 2 or 3. All priority 1 projects made it into the bond package, but none of the priority 2 or 3 projects made it.

KISD officials have said the lower priority projects are still needed at some point for the district. But Willeby said this was an issue for him, citing as an example that funding was provided for new fencing around 12 elementary schools but not the replacement of playgrounds at 11 campuses.

“I wish I were for the bond, I just can’t be,” he said. “I believe [a] $450 million [bond] is a good number.”

Planning for growth

Two other bond committee members, Gerald “Jerry” Kroll and Joseph Alessi, formed the now-dissolved All 4 Katy PAC to support the measure. Kroll said the group ended due to disagreement over its direction, but his feelings on the bond have not changed.

“Everything that the administration requested, all [56] line items there were, are things that need to be addressed at some point in time at the district level,” he said. “Our job was to choose those that made sense.”

He added that given the district’s growth trajectory, “there’s no doubt that there’s need for another high school.”

He said he would prefer not to delay building new schools and that the $609.2 million package was a compromise between KISD’s immediate needs and what it will need three or four years from now.

Waiting for Harvey

A.D. Muller disagrees about the urgency of this bond, and echoed Willeby’s comments to wait until after KISD assesses the full extent of property damage from Harvey. Muller was not on the bond committee but is part of the same informal group as Willeby, which is neither a PAC nor a nonprofit.

“Tax rates can stay the same but appraisals can go up or down,” Muller said. “I think there was opposition before but I think Harvey had something to do with it.”

Muller also said his group does not fully trust the school district to use the bond funds for their intended projects. He cited the case of Legacy Stadium, which was approved for $58 million in the district's 2014 bond but later received about $12 million more in funding for additional site improvements.

As for what could be an obstacle to passing the bond, Kroll said every member of the committee would probably have a different answer.

“The fact that we had a hurricane, the fact that we had flooding [at] the colossal level that we did does not affect the fact that people are moving to our school district … every day,” Kroll said.

If the bond fails, the district could reexamine the proposed projects for a future election. In fact, the 2014 bond, which passed, was preceded by a failed bond in 2013.

Early voting ends Nov. 3 and Election Day is Nov. 7. To find Katy area polling places, ballot language and other useful voter information, check out the Election Guide.