Lamar Consolidated ISD's proposed $445 million bond is one of the more controversial items on Fort Bend County's November ballot as community members against the bond struggle with the toll it may take on their taxes, while supporters argue the high dollar amount is needed for LCISD, which was ranked one of the fastest growing districts in the state by Population and Survey Analysts in 2017.
"They've had a bond every three years," 5-year LCISD resident Heber Castillo said at an Oct. 14 meeting for opponents of the bond. "If this one is $445 million, what will the next one be?"
If approved by voters, the $445.5 million bond would fund the creation of five new schools—three elementary, one junior high and one high school—a new alternative learning center and interior and exterior improvements to all existing schools.
A little over 70 percent of the bond would be used to fund new schools and land, according to the district. Some community members in favor of the bond have formed a political action committee to increase visibility and support for the bond and argue that although the bond is high, it is critical to the overall growth of Fort Bend County.
“As a business owner in the community, I feel that having a strong school district is good for economic development,” said Llarance Turner, treasurer of the PAC and a Rosenberg business owner. “Making sure students are well educated in the community provides business in the community and future employees.”
Opponents of the bond like David Vrshek, a retired engineer and resident of Del Webb Sweetgrass, argue that while they are not against the LCISD board, administration or students, the bond is unnecessarily high and the district should find ways to cut costs. If passed, the district’s bond would increase its indebtedness from about $800 million to over $1.2 billion.
“We want all kids in LCISD to get a good education, but we think it’s incumbent on the board and the administration to spend our tax dollars wisely,” Vrshek said. “And we think a bond issue of $445 million is extremely high.”
Vrshek said one solution he thinks the district should consider is cutting the cost per student by increasing enrollment numbers for the new proposed schools. The proposed new high school would serve 2,000 students.
“The district had a master plan that was made in 2003—maybe it’s time to change the master plan," Vrshek said. "Maybe the district is getting big enough that it should have high schools with 2,500 students to 3,000 students.”
Proponents of the bond argue the new schools are critical due to LCISD's growth and the overcrowding that already pervades the district. The district uses 152 portable classrooms to accommodate those overcrowded schools, according to a flier from the district.
The flier states that the bond will affect the average homeowner by approximately $8.18 a month or $98 a year for homes with a taxable value of $231,000 and that senior citizens with frozen taxes will not be affected. Vrshek argues that the flier is misleading, since he said the district’s property values increased by 5.5 percent for 2017 and that most homeowners would see an increase of $266 a year, not $98.
District officials said that it has no control over the constant property growth within the area, but has worked to control its annual tax rate which has remained the same for seven consecutive years.
"The district’s information clearly speaks only to the increase in bond debt due to the 2017 bond election," said Phil Sulak, LCISD communications coordinator. "This $266 amount also assumes all bonds will be sold at the same time, causing the entire $98 per average home to be added all at once. This has never been the district’s practice and there are no plans to proceed in that fashion."
Proponents of the bond like Turner argue that a district seeing the amount of growth LCISD has should invest in its future.
“We must keep up with this growth by adding new schools, improving existing schools, adding new technology, adding athletic equipment and fine arts, expanding transportation and increasing the food services budget," Turner said. "We must give our children in LCISD the bright future they deserve.”
Vrshek said he hopes more people will educate themselves on the bond and that he will continue to push forward in his efforts.
“If we can turn this [the bond] down, then maybe they will take a look at this [the district’s master plan] and figure out how to spend our tax dollars more wisely,” Vrshek said at the meeting.
Early voting begins Oct. 23 and runs through Nov. 3. Election Day is Nov. 7. Find a list of early voting and polling locations here.