Katy ISD considers school bond proposal to keep up with growth

To keep pace with the area's growth, Katy ISD is considering calling a bond for the November 2014 election, according to a presentation delivered at a Feb. 10 board of trustees work-study meeting.

"It is undisputed that we are a fast-growing district," Katy ISD Superintendent Alton Frailey said.

Booming residential developments already underway on the district's southwest side and thousands of acres purchased by developers for new communities north of I-10 will likely require the district to accelerate its construction of schools, according to district officials.

Moderate enrollment projections, which are the projections used for planning, show its total student population growing to more than 80,000 students in the next five years and nearly 100,000 in the next decade, said Tom Gunnell, chief operations officer for the district.

Katy ISD, which currently has 67,345 students, will likely see intensified growth north of I-10 in a way similar to the growth of its southwestern quadrant in the previous 10 years, Gunnell said.

"The district will need schools both north and south of I-10 over the next 10 years," he said.

On average, there will be a projected 4,000 new housing occupancies every year in the district's boundaries for the foreseeable future.

There are also more immediate concerns, including King and Wolman elementary schools and junior high schools in the southwestern part of the district. Those schools will approach record high enrollment in the next few years.

The district's last successful bond was in 2010. It yielded no increase in property tax. All of the projects from the $459 million bond are complete, including three new elementary schools, one junior high, one high school, one replacement elementary school and numerous renovations.

The next bond was expected to have been in 2012 or 2013, but by using the 2010 bond money, a strategy was developed to push it back and two new elementary school projects and STEM project center, slated to open this fall, were paid for, Gunnell said.

The district's last bond attempt, a $99 million package intended to provide a new stadium, agriculture center and STEM project center, failed in November 2013. Based on previous demographic projects, the next bond was expected to be called in 2015.

After the work-study presentation, board members emphasized the necessity of communication and community engagement for the success of a 2014 bond after a 2013 bond failure.

"The problem with passing a bond is that it can be beaten with sound bites but it needs a classroom explanation," Position 5 Board Member Henry Dibrell said. "We have to realize that right now there is not a taste in this country for more debt, but this is not the same thing that goes on in Washington, D.C. We have to take this time, not the time in November, to explain that to as many members of our community as possible."

Several board members spoke to the need of encouraging the community to take ownership of what they believe needs to be done.

"We know this growth is coming," Position 6 Board Member Bryan Michalsky said. "We know we're going to need facilities. Yet, what I think we're fighting against in some respects is the cul-de-sac perspective. I think our parents are generally interested and involved in their school zone, but we need to educate them to the point of a broader perspective."

Several members of the board suggested that the bond's citizen committee, which was initially to include 100 members, be expanded to 200–250 members as a way of getting more members of the community involved. The citizen board is slated to deliver a recommendation to the board at some point in July.