Homeowners in Killeen, Harker Heights and Nolanville could face a bit of sticker shock on future property tax bills.
Efforts of the Killeen Independent School District to push through a potential bond issue in time for a May 2018 ballot went into overdrive last month. Possible construction and renovation costs associated with a potential bond have fluctuated over a six-week period from $500 million to $700 million. The highest priority projects being considered for inclusion in the bond issue top $487 million.
Here’s what happened:
A potential bond issue was briefly mentioned during a review of the Strategic Facility Plan at the Sept. 28 KISD board workshop. At that point, board members agreed, without voting, a timeline should be formulated, exploring options for a bond issue, for consideration at the next board meeting.
That timeline, presented to the board by Megan Bradley, KISD chief financial officer, at the Oct. 10 meeting, included November 2018 and May 2019 as possible and preferred times for a bond election.
Within a week of that meeting, Craft decided to accelerate the process.
• Oct. 10 — Craft announced at the KISD board meeting there wasn’t enough time to get a bond issue on the May 2018 ballot. “I do believe we are past the point to successfully put that together. Not to say it’s an impossible task, but we’re already well behind the eight ball for a spring 2018 election.” His suggestion was to work toward a November 2018 or May 2019 bond election.
• Oct. 17 — Craft spoke at the Harker Heights City Council workshop, and proposed a May 2018 bond election for the district.
• Oct. 24 — At the KISD board workshop, Craft presented information about invitations being sent to more than 100 prospective bond steering committee members, with the first meeting set for Nov. 2. Suggestions by KISD administrators and board members were used to compile the list, Craft said. Those who agreed to serve on the committee include former KISD board members, local business people, retired military members, KISD staff and parents, representing a diverse cross-section of the community, according to Craft.
The basis for the committee nominations has not been clarified. The Herald submitted a public information request to KISD on Oct. 30 requesting all emails and other communications from KISD staff, board members or members of the public concerning the selection of the 100-plus individuals who were invited to participate in the bond steering committee. None of the requested information has been received from KISD.
The Herald, in a separate communication, asked Craft why the date of the bond election was moved up to May 5, 2018, after he objected to that date at the Oct. 10 meeting. He said the earlier date was the preference of some board members, which seems to be confirmed by the KISD board minutes. “Several Board members expressed interest in pursuing a May 2018 bond election,” the minutes read, but no names were listed and no vote on the matter was taken at the meeting.
Craft has, at the bond steering committee meetings, made a point that the continued growth in student population is a major concern for the district, as is the prospect of escalating construction costs in the wake of the hurricanes that have devastated not only Texas but other parts of the U.S. this year.
At the Nov. 2 bond steering committee meeting, he announced that enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year had peaked the previous week at 44,319. By the Nov. 16 meeting, that peak number had jumped to 44,378. The projected number of students in the district is estimated to be nearly 50,000 by the 2028-2029 school year.
Without a bond issue, Craft said, KISD would not have the funds to build much-needed new schools to accommodate the expected yearly 1 percent increase in student enrollment. At the Nov. 16 bond steering committee meeting, Craft suggested student growth could be closer to 1.5 percent. “Over the past 10 years, the growth has actually been 1.5 percent,” he said. “Only two of the last 10 years has growth been under 1 percent.”
In the scramble to gather information to pass along to the 50-plus people who agreed to serve on the bond steering committee, and to the public, many KISD staff members are putting in massive amounts of extra hours. Not only are they working at the administrative offices during regular business hours, they are preparing information and attending the evening bond steering committee meetings .
On the special website created for the bond steering committee process, 20 KISD staff members are listed as resources.
“It’s just part of our jobs,” said Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer. “It’s not overtime for people like Ramona [Bellard, executive officer] and Megan [Bradley, chief financial officer] and Adam [Rich, executive director of facilities services] and me and the others who are involved in the process.”
Priorities for the potential bond money have shifted.
Initially, new construction projects listed on the district’s Strategic Facility Plan were the main items for the bond issue. Three new elementary schools and a new middle school have been on that list — according to the annual revisions to the Strategic Facility Plan — for years.
A new high school estimated to cost $173 million was part of the Strategic Facility Plan, in the category “Additional Considerations.”
So was a stadium, with the cost listed “TBD” — to be determined.
At the Oct. 10 meeting, Craft mentioned the cost for that stadium would be approximately $50 million. At that point, he said it would be considered for inclusion on the bond issue. Then, Nov. 9, Craft told the steering committee the stadium was no longer on the list.
Other ideas fielded for the bond issue by the KISD board were purchasing school buses, or retrofitting older buses with seat belts.
These, too, have fallen by the wayside.
Craft urged the bond steering committee at the Nov. 9 meeting to focus on “instructional facilities,” both new buildings and renovations to older schools. He called for a “rigorous and vigorous dialogue” about the district’s priorities.
One of the priorities discussed at the bond steering committee meetings is to eliminate the need for some, if not all, of the 232 portable classrooms presently being used on overcrowded campuses.
For the older school buildings in the district, addressing deficiencies in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is a definite priority, Craft said.
The safety and security of students is another area to be tackled. Limiting visitor access to school buildings by installing intercoms at the entrances and controlled access devices to ensure student safety, and repairing aging infrastructure such as walls and floors, are among items the committee is charged to assess.
During the Nov. 9 meeting presentation, Craft showed he had changed his mind about some of the plans for future projects in the district.
Craft described how, by temporarily shifting East Ward students to West Ward and Fairway schools, the existing East Ward building could be demolished and a new facility built that would allow all the students from East Ward and West Ward to study in one building.
A similar plan was mentioned involving Pershing Park, Sugar Loaf and Bellaire elementary schools. Those students would temporarily be shifted to Nolan Middle School.
Craft brought up using the former Fairway Middle School as part of the consolidation process even after the district had accepted bids to sell the property.
• Sept. 12 — The KISD board approved plans to put the former Fairway Middle School up for sale, along with the former Sallie Mae property.
• Oct 11 and 18 — KISD advertised the property sale in the Killeen Daily Herald.
• Nov. 3 — Bids are opened at the KISD administrative office. True Deliverance Ministries offered $50,000 for Fairway Middle School, with plans to create a Christian academy school.
• Nov. 9 — At the KISD bond steering committee meeting, Craft mentioned using the former Fairway Middle School as a “swing school” in a plan to consolidate East Ward and West Ward Elementary Schools.
• Nov. 14 — At the KISD board meeting, bids for Fairway Middle School and the Sallie Mae property were discussed in closed session and rejected without explanation by the board.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, Matthew Boles and Derek Honea of RBC Capital, Dallas, presented three scenarios for the bond issue to the committee, and how each would impact taxpayers.
Scenario 1 listed the bond as $175 million. That amount would raise the interest and sinking, or debt service tax rate from its current 0.07 percent to 0.105 percent. The owner of a home valued at $150,000, minus the homestead exemption, would see a yearly increase in their property taxes of approximately $44.
Scenario 2, as proposed by RBC Capital, has the bond amount at $350 million. The interest and sinking tax rate would jump from 0.07 percent to 0.17 percent, meaning property taxes would rise approximately $127 per year on a home valued at $150,000, minus the homestead exemption.
Scenario 3 would be a $500 million bond issue. A yearly property tax increase of approximately $209 would be seen by owners of a $150,000 home, minus the homestead exemption. That translates into an increase in the interest and sinking tax rate from its current 0.07 percent to 0.24 percent.
The proposed bond would have a 30-year amortization, or length, which, as Boles explained, could be refinanced — or “refunded” — if interest rates dropped, to save the district additional money.
With the presentation of a potential project list at the Nov. 16 bond steering committee meeting, the possible total for the bond issue could rise to over $700 million. Estimated costs for the new schools exceed $400 million. Consolidation plans for East Ward and West Ward elementary schools, and Pershing Park, Sugar Loaf and Bellaire elementary schools — versus renovations to those schools — plus renovations to other aging schools add up to more than $300 million alone.
The bond steering committee broke into small groups and worked on prioritizing the projects at the Nov. 16 meeting, using a scale of 0-5, with five being highest priority.
Rating factors/categories were “weighted” by how important the committee members considered them at a previous meeting.
Those rating factors are:
• Benefit to students — 31 percent
• Urgency/need — 29 percent
• Align with KISD mission — 15 percent
• Benefit to community — 13 percent
• Equity — 12 percent
The input from the small groups was combined and an aggregate score generated to determine the priority of each project. KISD distributed the results in a press release Nov. 17.
The top projects, with a ranking of 4.0 or higher — not including the “to be determined” cost of the “securities, disabilities access renovations” project — total $487 million.
Thursday’s bond steering committee meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at Roy J. Smith Middle School, 6000 Brushy Creek Drive.
The tentative agenda for that meeting includes finalizing prioritization of projects to be included on the bond issue. There will also be a chance for the committee to reach a consensus about what recommendation should be presented to the KISD board at the board’s Dec. 12 regular meeting.
If these two items are not completed at Thursday’s meeting, an additional meeting will take place Dec. 7 at Nolan Middle School to finalize all aspects of the presentation to the KISD board. All bond steering committee meetings are open to the public.
Information regarding the KISD bond steering committee meetings, including videos of the meetings, is available on the website www.killeenisdbsc.org. The public can also submit comments and questions about the potential bond issue on the website.
KISD bond projects
|Security, disabilities access renovations||5||To be determined|
|New high school (Open 2022)||4.9||$150-171 million|
|New school consolidate East/West Ward ES||4.7||$39-$45 million|
|New Pershing Park ES, consolidate Sugar Loaf, part of Bellaire||4.6||$44-$52 million|
|Elementary School #36 (Open 2022)||4.3||$43-$45 million|
|Clifton Park ES renovation/Bellaire ES consolidation||4.3||$44-$52 million|
|Middle School #15 (Open 2026)||4.1||$52-$70 million|
|Killeen High School renovation||4||$44-$52 million|
|Peebles ES renovation/expansion||3.9||$44-$52 million|
|Harker Heights Elementary renovation/expansion||3.8||$44-$52 million|
|Elementary School #37 (Open 2025)||3.8||$48-$58 million|
|Elementary School #38 (Open 2027)||3.4||$51-$65 million|
|Gateway HS/MS renovation||1.4||$44-$52 million|
KISD bond steering committee members:
Gen. Pete Taylor