Katy ISD assesses needs for May bond referendum

The Bill and Cindy Haskett Junior High School, currently still under construction, was built using funds from the 2017 bond. (Laura Aebi/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Bill and Cindy Haskett Junior High School, currently still under construction, was built using funds from the 2017 bond. (Laura Aebi/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Bill and Cindy Haskett Junior High School, currently still under construction, was built using funds from the 2017 bond. (Laura Aebi/Community Impact Newspaper)

Demographics firm Population and Survey Analysts projected Katy ISD’s enrollment to reach 100,000 students by 2027—making KISD the fastest-growing large school district in Texas, according to the district. Now, KISD is looking for funding solutions in the form of an upcoming May bond referendum. In response to the school district’s continued growth, the KISD Community Bond Advisory Committee met Jan. 13—one of three meetings before it will present a bond package to the KISD board of trustees at its Feb. 8 special board meeting.

The bond, which could be approximately $676 million, would likely be used to fund five new campuses; renovate seven existing campuses; and provide needed improvements, replacements and upgrades to various existing KISD facilities. The official figure will not be determined until the committee is closer to presenting the final bond package based on the district’s continued growth.

According to PASA demographer Pat Guseman, at a December school board meeting the district had 3,000 housing starts from September 2019 to September 2020.

“There’s still an acceleration while we’re in the midst of high unemployment,” Guseman said. “In the second quarter, Katy ranked fifth out of 61 districts as a producer of housing starts. ... So again, this district has not had any fumbles or stumbles in terms of residential construction.”

Expected growth

The majority of future growth and development will happen in the northwest quadrant of the district, Guseman said. If the bond does not pass, the district would be at risk of upward inflationary pressure, interest rate changes and districtwide rezoning that could result in overcrowding.

“Katy ISD is now the fifth-largest producer of homes out of 61 school districts in the Houston area,” Guseman said. “The majority of the lots in the northwest quadrant of Katy ISD are building out rapidly. By the time Katy ISD is fully built out, it should have approximately 115,500 students.”

Kris Pool, an attorney and director of planning at PASA who specializes in attendance zone planing and long-range facilities analysis, said PASA expects elementary, junior and high schools in the northwest region to exceed enrollment capacity soon if they are not already there.

“Same song, third verse,” Pool said, referring to KISD high school trends mirroring that of junior high and elementary schools. “Aside from the rapid growth in Paetow and Katy [high schools], all of the rest of the schools are nice and even if you look out into 2025. I think that says a lot about the work that the district has done over the last couple of decades to keep on top of everything.”

But the work is not done, Pool said.

“Paetow and Katy are clearly going to have to be relieved,” he said. “You can see that just by 2025 that the combination of those two schools would be looking at as many as 9,500 students—and in each one, the schools hold about 3,000. So High School 10, by 2025, we’re expecting to be very well-utilized.”

One element PASA used to predict the growth was based on KISD’s unusually low amount of economically disadvantaged students compared to other similarly sized districts. According to previous reporting by Community Impact Newspaper, KISD’s rate of economically disadvantaged students was only 32.6% during the 2019-2020 school year, compared to the state average of 60.2%.

Guseman said the rate of economically disadvantaged students is an important factor contributing to how PASA predicts where development is expected to happen.

“It’s important because builders are looking at that data,” Guseman said. “Those developers that are using the parcels that are undeveloped are very interested in the percent of economically disadvantaged students in the district, as well as data that deals with passage rates and test scores.”

PASA, which predicted KISD would grow by approximately 2,400 new students per year for the next decade, made the recommendation to build additional elementary, junior and high schools—especially in the north and far west areas of the district where the growth was predicted. PASA noted more than 4,000 acres of open land in that area are expected to be used for subdivision construction.

An urgent need

In response to PASA’s predictions, the committee will address capital needs for a potential upcoming bond referendum.

In addition to capacity limitations, renovations and upgrades to existing facilities account for a significant portion of the bond package. Some KISD campuses are more than four decades old and require renovations, which may include renovating learning spaces and replacing components such as boilers, lighting, roofs and flooring.

KISD Chief Communications Officer Andrea Grooms said PASA’s presentation broke down the need for the upcoming bond—a need she said was greater than last year, when the committee was originally proposed but postponed due to pandemic-related meeting limitations.

“Dr. Guseman and Kris Pool demonstrated just how urgent the need is,” Grooms said. “Last January, or around this time last school year, administration came before you to propose moving forward with a community bond advisory committee that will be charged with assessing growth and also making some determinations about future capital needs—including new schools, renovations, component replacements and technology upgrades. ... This evening, that need again is even greater.”

KISD Chief Financial Officer Chris Smith said he would push the bond back if it were doable—but he does not think it can wait.

“If I thought we could push it again 'til November 2021 to give us more time, I would do that—but after seeing the presentation a couple of times from PASA, I am very concerned about if we don’t get something to our voters in May and get building a couple of these things right away,” Smith said. “If we don’t have schools, we’re going to be in a real challenge. ... We’ve got to get something before those voters in May or we will regret that.”

Financial implications

The committee will meet up to two more times before the proposed special board meeting Feb. 8 during which it will present its recommendation. KISD said if the bond is approved, no increase to the tax rate will be expected—mirroring the district’s 2017 $609.2 million bond which provided funding for six new campuses.

KISD Superintendent Ken Gregorski said if the bond does not pass, the district will have to assess alternative solutions to its rapid growth.

“Let’s say none of the propositions pass—we run that risk,” Gregorski said. “Let’s pick something out like technology. ... Let’s say it doesn’t pass, we would have the option at that point to go out at the next election cycle and put out a bond for just technology only. Or we can re-strategize.”

Restrategizing can include increasing the lifecycle of the district’s facilities, technology and other components; using the district’s savings and cutting funds from other areas; or putting another bond to vote.

“We have strategies if one of the items doesn’t pass,” Gregorski said.

Gregorski said the proposed capital projects outlined in the bond package are all considered absolutely necessary to handle the district’s growth.

“So the [bond] package ... is what we need for the next three years,” Gregorski said. “This package is what we need right now.”
By Laura Aebi
Laura Aebi is the editor of the Katy and Sugar Land/Missouri City editions of Community Impact Newspaper. She graduated from Texas State University in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Originally from North Texas, Laura relocated to Houston after spending three years in Pacific Northwest. Previously, she interned with two radio stations in Central Texas and held the role of features editor at the San Marcos Daily Record.


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