Alvin ISD is holding a bond election in November to build new campuses to house the 6,000 students it expects to add to its enrollment over the next five years.
The proposed $480.5 million bond is the largest yet for the district, which has issued $527 million in debt since 2009 to keep pace with rapid growth. However, this bond will not result in a tax hike for residents if the voters also approve a tax swap, officials said.
The tax swap, also called a “penny swap,” allows the district to shift a portion of its tax rate–$0.13 in this case–from the interest and sinking, or I&S, rate to the maintenance and operations, or M&O, rate. This will require a tax ratification election, or TRE, which would be held in conjunction with the bond election, and while the ballot language will say the M&O rate is increasing, the overall tax rate is not.
“The tax ratification election is a way to responsibly address student growth without putting the burden on local taxpayers,” AISD board President Nicole Tonini said in an email. “Voter approval of the measure would allow the district to maximize available state funding.”
Bond line items
The bond would fund eight new construction projects, security improvements and the purchase of land for more schools and facilities.
The bond proposal was put together by the Citizens Advisory Committee, a group of parents and stakeholders in the district who met throughout the year to create the bond package. The committee considered the growth of the district, as well as renovations at existing campuses. E.C. Mason Elementary School, Alvin Primary School and Harby Junior High School were all built in the 1980s and need to be renovated, according to the committee.
David Becker, a parent in AISD and a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee, said deciding what the district needed from the bond was relatively easy.
“The numbers don’t lie. It was pretty obvious we need another junior high,” Becker said.
As of this school year, six AISD schools will hit capacity, and 1,200 new students enrolled in the district this summer, Combs said. This is roughly the size of a junior high school, according to Becker. McNair Junior High School, which holds 1,000 students, opened for this year. The school is already at capacity, Becker said.
New construction under the bond will alleviate crowding in schools that feed into Shadow Creek and Manvel high schools, Becker said.
The committee also suggested the board of trustees consult the School Safety Advisory Committee for proposals to improve school safety. Suggestions for safety measures included upgrades to police department equipment, cameras, campus fencing, access control and emergency response systems.
As of now, the district has allocated $12.3 million for safety improvements, but some of those funds are also earmarked for new land purchases. The Citizens Advisory Committee recommended the board set aside $12.5 million to cover both land and infrastructure, allowing flexibility on how much is allocated to safety.
The safety committee presents safety recommendations to the board on a rolling basis, and can continue to do so after the bond is passed.
The Citizens Advisory Committee recommended Elementary School No. 21, Junior High No. 4 and High School No. 4 be the first projects, with construction beginning in fall 2018.
Each year, the school district is projected to grow by over 1,000 students, according to an annual report by Templeton Demographics.
The district could have asked for a bond to cover the next 10 or 20 years of growth, but according to Combs, building accommodations for 6,000 new students is daunting enough. This is the district’s first bond accommodating five years of growth; since 2009, bonds have accommodated 2-3 years.
Another reason to build for fewer years at a time is it is easier to project needs accurately, Becker said. A district walks a fine line in building schools, as it does not want to build too many and have schools that are nearly empty. However, not building enough will result in the use of portable classrooms.
“We will need temporary buildings, which in turn, it is not very cost-effective to do that,” Becker said.
The district is close to completing the $285 million bond passed in 2015, with Nelson and Sanchez elementary schools, the last two schools the bond funded, opening at the start of the 2019-20 school year.
According to Becker, the growth is in Manvel near Hwy. 6 and Hwy. 288. The city of Manvel has doubled its population since 2010, Mayor Debra Davison said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Manvel’s population in 2010 was roughly 5,000; the estimates for 2017 are over 10,000.
One of the contributors to the residential growth is the continued construction of the Meridiana subdivision. At build-out, Meridiana will have around 5,500 houses—comparable to nearby Shadow Creek Ranch.
When building Meridiana, the fact that it would be zoned to AISD was important, said Dan Naef, President of Rise Communities, the developer of Meridiana. Rise officials met with the superintendent and several teachers to create the community’s two learning labs, which allow students to have fun while learning in nature, Naef said.
“When we first came into that property, we knew we were in the Alvin school district. We also knew that anything we could do to enhance the educational experience for the residents of Meridiana would be good for the community and good for the overall school district,” Naef said.
Along with the two learning labs, Meridiana houses Meridiana Elementary School and the new Alvin ISD stadium, with a junior high school to come. The district will be adding homes for at least the next 10 years, Naef said.
Even if the bond passes, continuously adding personnel, equipment and programming is a challenge a growing district faces, Combs said. Personnel must be paid for through the M&O tax rate—not with bond money, officials said.
“Rapid growth means that we have to remain vigilant and diligent in seeking out and hiring the best teachers and staff to help every student achieve their potential,” Tonini said.
The tax swap
If it is approved by voters through a TRE, the tax swap will make the bond possible without affecting the overall tax rate.
“The Alvin ISD board of trustees is challenged with the task of serving a rapidly growing student population while at the same time remaining very cautious of any impact our decisions have on the taxpayers of Alvin ISD,” Tonini said.
When a school district raises its M&O tax rate above $1.04, the state ensures the school districts earn the same amount of revenue per student. To meet statewide standards, the district will acquire more state funds whenever it raises its M&O tax rate above $1.04. By raising its M&O tax rate to $1.17, the district will earn an additional $8.4 million in revenue from the state. This makes the bond possible from the start, Combs said.
By decreasing the I&S tax rate to $0.28, the district is able to keep the total tax rate the same. Over time, the growth in the district—both residential and commercial—will help pay off the bond as the property tax base expands. Since 2014, the total taxable property value has increased 46 percent, according to previous Community Impact Newspaper reporting.
Because school districts also receive state funds based on enrollment, AISD’s growth will also help grow the M&O budget, keeping new schools staffed, Combs said.
If the tax swap fails but the bond passes, the district will have the authority to raise the tax rate by $0.09. If the tax swap passes but the bond fails, the district has the option to keep the tax rate untouched.
A TRE could be called to raise the M&O rate, and consequentially raise the net rate, or to do a tax swap, which keeps the net rate the same. To assure the voters the TRE will maintain the current tax rate, the trustees signed a resolution saying they will not raise the overall tax rate without the consent of the voters.
“By signing the resolution, trustees have publicly affirmed, that if voters approve the TRE, the board will not raise the tax rate without voters’ consent,” Tonini said. “The resolution outlines, in detail, the board’s commitment to being transparent and accountable to our voters and taxpayers.”