In May, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD residents will vote on a $249 million bond package—the largest bond proposal in district history.
Superintendent Robin Ryan said with more than 1,300 proposed projects in the package, the bond would affect every campus and department in GCISD, from transportation to nutrition.
Ryan said the bond funds are needed because funding for repairs and upgrades for aging facilities is difficult to come by because GCISD is a Chapter 41—or “Robin Hood”—district, meaning millions from its operating budget are recaptured by the state each year for redistribution to Texas school districts with smaller tax bases.
“As a Robin Hood district we send somewhere between 20 to 25 percent of our operating dollars back to the state of Texas,” he said. “About 87 percent of what’s left—that we don’t send back to the state—we use to pay people. At the same time the state provides zero dollars to a Robin Hood district for facilities. So all facility improvements, development and building has to occur through local funds.”
Ryan said state law allows the district to keep 100 percent of the money received through a bond election.
“For that reason it makes sense for us to use bond dollars,” he said. “We have a bond around every five to six years as we forecast the needs of our community and the needs of our students and buildings.”
If approved, GCISD residents’ tax rate would increase by approximately 12.81 cents for a total of $1.45 per $100 valuation.
GCISD board of trustees President Leon Leal said he has not received any concerns from residents about the potential increase.
“I don’t believe that our voters will think it is that big of an increase,” he said. “Especially when you look at the benefit of the bond—it is far more important than the tax increase. It’s a tough thing, but we need this bond to continue all of the wonderful things we are doing in this district.”
From July 2015 through February the Facility Innovation & Readiness Stakeholder Team, a group of 59 GCISD parents, community members and district employees, worked to develop the bond proposal.
FIRST co-chairs Louie Sullins and Shea Kirkman said the bond focuses on four primary objectives: securing students and staff, growth and evolution, investing in infrastructure and enhancing the classroom experience.
A major component of the proposal includes the dedication of $33 million for the rebuilding of Cannon Elementary School, which was built in 1959.
“I think Cannon Elementary was a unique facility in the sense that it is the oldest school and it is structurally in the worst condition,” Kirkman said. “The FIRST committee toured the entire facility and looked at the different structural issues that they are dealing with, and how it impacts the classroom and learning environment.”
After comparing the cost of replacing Cannon versus the ongoing expense of maintenance of upkeep of the building, Kirkman said FIRST decided it would be a “fiscally-responsible decision to replace Cannon versus continuing to maintain a building that has exceeded its lifespan.”
Another major item in the bond is the building of two multipurpose activity centers—one at each high school—for $16 million each.
With 90 percent of the district at the high school level involved in extracurricular activities, Kirkman said the centers, which would provide a climate-controlled environment that could be used by athletic teams or the band, cheer or drill team, is needed.
“As a committee, when we looked at the centers, we thought it was a need and not a luxury,” he said. “We thought it was a facility that could touch multiple programs.”
Sullins said the best part about the bond is that it includes items that would affect all students in the district.
“All of our campuses will be impacted by the passing of this bond, whether it be from the collaboration space in the library, the furniture in classrooms, devices in kids’ hands, the way the technology is delivered to the children, the facilities that they drive up to everyday, the accessibility to get into that school, and even the expansion and addition of new facilities,” he said. “Everything from the curb to where the kid sits in the classroom and everything in between is included in this bond package.”
The proposed bond is double the amount of the last bond approved by voters in 2011, which was $124.5 million.
Kirkman said the increase can be attributed to the economy and the increased cost of services.
“When the 2011 bond happened we were in one of the most drastic recessions we had ever seen as a country,” he said. “The cost of goods and services were low. So the construction cost to build those facilities was significantly lower than today’s climate where we have a very strong economy.”
If approved, the average district homeowner, whose house is valued at $275,739, would see an increase in property taxes of approximately $29.44 a month, or $353.28 annually.
The tax rate of homeowners over the age of 65 who have been approved for a homestead exemption would not see an increase in taxes.
GCISD residents have passed every bond put before them by the district, and Kirkman believes history will repeat itself in the May election.
“I’m confident that our voters will see how important this bond is,” he said. “We as a district really are continuing to set the tone as a leadership district, and to be an elite school district in the state of Texas you have to have facilities that are maintained and supported, and in certain cases expanded when needed. So I believe our voters will see how valuable this bond is and vote yes.”
From $1.8 billion to $249 million
Sullins said FIRST began with a $1.8 billion wish list of needs and wants from each school.
“It started out at $1.8 billion and then got down to about $500 [million] to $800 million, and then we kept trimming by basically going through it,” Sullins said. “There was stuff in there like replacing all the buses or updating all the lighting to LED or replacing all the furniture in the entire school district, and that’s not feasible at one time.”
Sullins said FIRST also formed six subcommittees that went to visit the district’s facilities and fine arts, athletics and education departments to talk to the directors throughout the district to gather information and evaluate what needed to be in the package.
On Feb. 8, Sullins and Kirkman presented a $257.9 million bond presentation to trustees. After the presentation Ryan said trustees vetted line items and were able to trim the proposal to $249 million when it was approved Feb. 18 to go on the May ballot.
“The reductions were made specifically with the thought in mind to not make any major adjustments to any recommendations from the FIRST committee,” he said.
Although prospective voters said in a survey conducted last summer that they would approve a bond of $250 million or less, Ryan said the trustees did not have a number in mind when cuts were made.
“It was really about making sure that the package that was presented to voters was one that certainly had been vetted by not only the FIRST committee but also the trustees, and that they felt strong enough that they could approve it to go to voters,” he said.