Pearland voters will weigh in on a $220 million bond Nov. 8 set to address district growth, aging facilities and technological and security insufficiencies in Pearland ISD.

PISD Superintendent John Kelly said district administrators felt the need for the bond election following a 10-year stretch without a bond. District enrollment—at 21,115 students in the 2015-16 school year—is expected to increase by nearly 2,000 students over the next 10 years.

“It has been a full decade since our last bond election, despite the fact that we are a fast-growth school district,” he said. “If anything, we’re overdue.”

A 50-member long-range planning committee, which met seven times since November 2015, presented the bond recommendation to the board of trustees May 24. If approved, the bond package will mean a tax increase of no more than 7 cents over a five-year span, according to the committee.

PISD places $220 million bond on ballot PISD places $220 million bond on ballot[/caption]

“The committee from the very start said that they wanted to keep the tax rate manageable,” Kelly said. “From the very start, the idea was do not exceed a 7 cent tax increase over any part of the future. That’s basically guided the money decisions from that point on.”

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Based on the maximum 7 cent  increase, owners of a median-priced home in Pearland—approximately $200,000—could expect a $10.21 per month increase on their property taxes.

Eve Puckett, a parent whose children attend multiple PISD schools, said she plans to vote on the November bond. Among her greatest concerns are the district’s dedication to science and technology programs and the safety of the campus environments.

“After researching the bond issues, I do feel my concerns are being met,” she said. “Our elementary school, in particular, is currently under a large renovation project that was much needed.”

The bond package

Following the May 24 presentation, the board of trustees met twice to take an in-depth look at the proposal. The board unanimously approved the recommendations Aug. 9 and called for the Nov. 8 election.

PISD places $220 million bond on ballot PISD places $220 million bond on ballot[/caption]

While the bond does not call for the addition of any new schools, it does focus nearly 50 percent of the $220 million on addressing growth. The bond calls for 28 classrooms to be added to Dawson High School as well as new classrooms at Pearland Junior High School East, Jamison Middle School and Sablatura Middle School.

“I think one of the objectives was to try not to open a new school if we can accommodate growth within a reasonable period of time,” Facilities and Planning Director Don Tillis said.  “Any time you add a new school, you’re adding so much cost—the cost to hire all the additional staff: principal, assistant principal, counselors, cafeteria workers, custodians.”

Kelly said the decision to address growth needs through the expansion of current facilities instead of new schools allowed the district to keep the bond price to an amount they believed voters would support.

“We manage growth very carefully through demographic studies but also by rezoning,” he said. “Every year to two years we’re rezoning schools to balance the load. If we do that successfully and keep doing that successfully, we think it will be eight to 10 years before we build a new school.”

Aging facilities

Along with expansion, plans call for nearly 35 percent of the bond proposal to be used toward upgrading numerous aging facilities throughout the district. Nearly every school in the district will receive HVAC, electrical and roof upgrades, Kelly said.

PISD places $220 million bond on ballot PISD places $220 million bond on ballot[/caption]

Although different schools would be set to receive specific upgrades, the goal of the renovations would be to address the distinct issues facing older schools, Kelly said.

“With each new school that’s built, they tend to incorporate the modern features,” he said. “That leaves older schools not so well-equipped. As we move into the technology age where things are concentrated in terms of providing technological assistance, facilities have to be built for that. But in some cases, they are just old.”

The biggest upgrades will be seen at Pearland High School, which opened in 1991. Renovation recommendations include upgraded science labs, medical science and computer lab improvements, and renovations to the cafeteria kitchen and the auditorium.

Tillis said the effort was simply to bring the older schools nearly up to par with newer schools.

“I don’t think the committee was going for complete equity,” he said. “It was more if there was an extreme where it was not fair at all, they provided some equity. It wasn’t that we need to go after complete equity.”

Technology and security

Although they are smaller portions of the bond, technology updates throughout the district and safety upgrades to each of the campuses were imperative, Kelly said.

PISD places $220 million bond on ballot PISD places $220 million bond on ballot[/caption]

About 10 percent of the bond is set to be used for technology, including the replacement of computers on a five-year refresh schedule.

“The unique thing about Pearland is that we don’t have the money per student that most of the surrounding districts have,” he said. “Technology has become harder for us to keep up on. This bond does not give us pie in the sky. It basically replaces old stuff and puts the right tools in the hands of all the teachers and makes it easy for the kids to at least have [access to laptops or tablets] during the school day.”

Additional technology upgrades include at least one classroom set of laptops per grade level on all campuses, the strengthening of Wi-Fi access points on all campuses and increased student access to laptops and tablets.

Safety and security makes up 7 percent of the bond package as the district attempts to quell concerns of parents stemming from recent school violence across the U.S. Tillis said this can be done by strengthening safety measures by which people can access the schools.

PISD places $220 million bond on ballot PISD places $220 million bond on ballot[/caption]

Upgrades include additional fencing at elementary and middle schools, additional security cameras and upgrades to existing equipment, security door controls and new security entrances.

Kelly said it was clear security upgrades needed to be a high priority.

“There are campuses where our people are too easily exposed to any outside presences,” he said. “For example, if you walk into even some of our newer elementary schools—the second you walk in the door—the entire school is open to you. We are trying to manage that.”

The Rig upgrades

A final portion of the bond package calls for several upgrades to Pearland Stadium—more commonly known as The Rig. As it stands, the stadium—which opened in 2001—holds a capacity crowd of 9,200.

The bond includes the addition of 3,000 seats, 400 additional parking spaces, an upgraded sound system, new field lighting and renovations to the locker rooms, concession stands and the press box.

“We want to be realistic and realize the number of citizens watching our games is not likely to decrease but increase,” Kelly said. “Since we’ve already had two straight years where we’ve had to bring in a substantial number of temporary bleachers we need to build that into the stadium. The Rig was built in 2001. The sound needs some improvement. The lighting needs some improvement.”