Voters to decide Spring ISD’s $330M bond

Spring ISD voters will decide the fate of a $330 million bond referendum on Nov. 8.

Spring ISD voters will decide the fate of a $330 million bond referendum on Nov. 8.

Voters will decide in the Nov. 8 election whether to approve a $330 million bond referendum to fund construction and other needs, including three ninth-grade school buildings, two middle schools and buses for expanded routes. The referendum carries a 7-cent tax increase, which would raise the SISD tax rate from $1.47 to $1.54 per $100 valuation from 2018-20.


A steering committee of more than 70 district residents formulated the Nov. 8 referendum package this summer. The committee identified needs and expenses in several areas: facilities, technology, safety and security.


“Our bond steering committee worked hard to develop the bond package that will be on the ballot in November,” SISD Superintendent Rodney Watson said. “It’s been nearly a decade since the district last asked our community to consider a bond, so we approached the process very seriously, understanding that school bonds need to be developed by the community and be for the community.”


Voters to decide SISD’s $330M bond



New facilities


Most of the expenditures recommended by the bond steering committee are for construction and maintenance of facilities.


A total of $280 million is slated to fund three ninth-grade buildings, two middle school buildings, a new centralized stadium, a police department building and maintenance projects.


Enrollment at the district’s three high schools and three of its middle schools is above capacity, according to SISD.


“Within the next five years we’ll be at 110 percent utilization,” SISD Chief Operations Officer Mark Miranda said. “That’s a little high, so one of the focuses would be to relieve those capacity issues.”


The district plans to complete all of the bond projects within a five-year window if the referendum is approved, he said. The order in which the projects will be started has not yet been determined.


The ninth-grade buildings would be built near the district’s three comprehensive high schools, Miranda said. Ninth-grade students will use performing arts and athletic facilities at the high school buildings but will have their own cafeterias, Miranda said.


“We’re looking at keeping them as self-contained as possible to limit the amount of movement that has to occur,” Miranda said.


Debbie Townsend, a member of the bond steering committee and parent of two SISD graduates, said she advocated for ninth-grade buildings instead of a new high school. She said the option is both cheaper—$112 million as opposed to $180 million—and will allow the district to keep its current feeder zones for high schools intact.


Two new middle schools are also included in the bond referendum. One campus will house Roberson Middle School at a new location, and a second school will be built to accommodate district enrollment growth at the middle school grade levels.Voters to decide SISD’s $330M bond


A 32-acre property next to Northgate Elementary School and a 77.8-acre property next to Lewis Elementary School have been slated for those schools. Meanwhile, a 117-acre property owned by the district on Cypresswood Drive has been earmarked for the proposed $38 million stadium.


The bond package also includes $5 million for a new command center for the SISD Police Department. The station’s current 8,000-square-foot location near I-45 and Meyer Elementary School is about half the size the 93-member police department requires, Miranda said.


“Our primary focus is to look for [an existing] facility that would be conducive for our needs, purchase and repurpose the facility,” Miranda said.



Buses and technology


Outside of the new facilities, one of the largest expenses within the proposed bond would increase the district’s bus service for students who live within a mile and a half of campus to a one-mile radius.


The bond package includes $6 million for the purchase of 60 new buses for those routes and $4.5 million for 45 replacement buses throughout the district. The expanded bus routes will reduce traffic around the campuses, but more importantly, it will limit the number of students walking to school, Miranda said.


The transportation costs are part of the $18 million total included in the proposed referendum for safety and security improvements. Miranda said safety expenses include upgrading surveillance, access control and burglar alarms.


A total of $32 million was budgeted for technology improvements in the proposed bond referendum as well.


“Our core infrastructure is quite dated,” SISD Director of Infrastructure Fred Brenz said. “To put it in perspective, much of the current technology infrastructure that we have was put in place before most of the [students] that we currently serve were even born.”



Cost, construction


SISD Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks said the bonds would be issued in three separate $110 million pieces over three years, and the construction projects will be completed within five years.


“That allows us to get started on some projects, get those rolling, then issue the next one,” Westbrooks said.


The accompanying 7-cent tax rate increase will begin in 2018 and end in 2020, she said. A total of 7 cents will be added to the current tax rate—$1.47 per $100 valuation—if the referendum is approved by voters, Westbrooks said.


“The Spring average [home value] is $140,000, so that turns into about $80 a year worth of additional taxes based upon the addition of the bond,” Westbrooks said.


Watson said if the Nov. 8 referendum fails, the district would have to continue to work within its regular budget and would look to the community for feedback before scheduling a new referendum.


“[The board would] find out the issues that prevented it [from passing] and work together to come together with a plan that meets their needs,” Watson said.


Miranda said a bond referendum is the primary mechanism available to school districts for large capital purchases.


“We simply don’t have it in our general fund,” he said.



Community support


A group of about 16 residents who served on the bond steering committee formed Citizens Who Believe in Spring 2016, an organization in favor of the referendum. District employees are not permitted to endorse the referendum.


“We decided to move out and try to make a positive effort to get the information out into the community and the bond and why people should pass it,” committee Chairman Ken Grays said. Grays’ children are SISD graduates.


The group plans to launch a website, www.believeinspring2016.com, in October.


Grays said the group hopes to educate the public and explain to residents without children in the district why they should support the bond referendum.


“However our schools go, our community [also] goes,” Grays said.


Grays said property values are affected by the quality of its school district and he believes high dropout rates can contribute to crime in the area.


“We have got to be able to educate our kids to be productive citizens,” Townsend said.


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By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.