To finance over $500 million to construct multiple schools and other facilities over the next 10 years, the Killeen Independent School District is going to ask the public for funding.
How much the taxpayer-funded bond issue will be has yet to be determined by the KISD board of trustees, according to John Craft, KISD superintendent. But school officials know when they want to present the bond issue to voters who live in the district, which includes Killeen, Harker Heights, Nolanville, Fort Hood and southern Bell County.
The bond issue will be presented to district voters May 5, which is sooner than originally expected.
The KISD board workshop will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday. It will be held at the district administrative office, 200 N. W.S. Young Drive.
At the Oct. 10 KISD board of trustees meeting, Craft presented the board with a timeline indicating May 2019 as the date for a bond election.
“We have another timeline with a November 2018 bond election,” Craft said at the meeting.
A plan to hold the bond election in May 2018 didn’t seem feasible to Craft at that point. “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.”
KISD board President Corbett Lawler explained why the district decided to move things up to May 2018.
“If you get to looking at the pressures that we’re facing, I don’t see where we have a choice. We have to do something now,” he said Friday.
The pressure is continued overcrowding in the classrooms, especially at the high school level, according to Lawler.
Board member JoAnn Purser gave her thoughts during the Oct. 10 meeting. Seeing how the district’s student population continues to grow — by an average of 1 percent per year, or about 400 to 500 students — “One little extra surge, 500 or 700 more kids, and we’re in trouble.”
On Friday, Craft said the district has “done quite a bit of heavy lifting (since the Oct. 10 meeting), knowing that we’ve got a Feb. 16 deadline for the board to actually call for a bond election.”
To pull things together, “it’s going to require a lot of hard work between now and our Christmas break,” Craft added, but he thinks the team working on the project can get there.
Based on that, Craft presented his plan for a May 2018 bond election at the Harker Heights council meeting on Tuesday.
That plan will be discussed at the KISD board of trustees workshop meeting Tuesday, according to a news release issued by KISD. At the workshop, Craft will present a revised timeline targeting the steps necessary toward a May bond election.
The KISD administration is already moving forward in the creation of a bond steering committee which, as explained by KISD Chief Financial Officer Megan Bradley at the Oct. 10 board meeting, should consist of KISD staff, board members, community members and others with a vested interest in the district.
Public meetings will be held in the near future to gather input from the community on facilities, infrastructure and equipment needs, according to the news release.
The district’s last bond election was 2002. That bond issue was $98.7 million, according to Terry Abbott, KISD chief communications officer. Those funds were used to build seven new schools.
Craft stated that KISD has the lowest property tax rate of any school district in the area.
How a bond issue would affect that tax rate is unclear at this point. Even if the bond amount were $200 million, the tax amount calculation is complex, according to Marvin Hahn, Bell County chief appraiser and tax assessor-collector. The amount of the bond issue would be combined with the length of time, and the interest rate — all unknowns at this point.
As Craft said, “Right now, it would be really premature to throw a figure out there.” He added, “So much of the amount is really going to be contingent upon the bond steering committee.”
Craft said he estimates, by mid-December, the amount of the bond election may be released.
Over the past two years, local property taxes have provided substantial amounts toward the district’s operations. In 2016, that amount was over $74 million. That increased in 2017 to $77 million.
“We’ve made good, careful use of the taxpayers’ money and are very proud that we have been able to build new schools and make renovations and repairs at other schools for 15 years with existing funds,” Craft said in the KISD news release.
Cost of projects
The first proposed elementary school is slated to open for the 2019-2020 school year, at an estimated cost in excess of $37 million. Those funds would be paid for from the district’s current facilities budget, according to Bradley.
That budget would also cover the more than $54 million cost of construction on a middle school that is proposed to open for the 2020-2021 school year.
Potential projects which could be included in the upcoming bond issue would be built over the next 10 years.
A new high school is estimated to cost $173 million and a second sports stadium for the district could run $50 million, according to Craft. The Strategic Facility Plan does not list when the high school would open, though discussion at previous KISD board meetings included a potential fall 2021 opening. KISD’s current four high schools are near- or over-capacity.
Only by having high school students involved in programs at the KISD Career Center and Early College High School has it been possible to prevent serious overcrowding, Craft said at the Sept. 28 KISD board workshop. Nearly 1,300 students are involved in those programs for the 2017-2018 school year.
Another issue is the ability for the high school cafeterias to feed so many high school students during their lunch periods. Due to changes in KISD policy for the 2017-2018 school year, freshmen are no longer allowed off the high school campuses during lunch. Sophomores, juniors and seniors can still leave campus during their lunch period.
The Killeen Daily Herald previously reported that KISD high schools have the capacity to feed 63 percent of the enrolled students. That amounts to 1,336 students at Ellison High (2017-2018 enrollment 2,600-plus), 1,368 students at Harker Heights High (2017-2018 enrollment 2,500-plus), 1,398 students at Shoemaker High (2017-2018 enrollment 2,200-plus) and 1,398 students at Killeen High (2017-2018 enrollment 2,300-plus).
Construction of three other elementary schools and another middle school listed on KISD’s Strategic Facility Plan would bring the total cost of potential bond issue-related projects close to half a billion dollars.
At Tuesday’s workshop, Craft will also be asking the board to make use of existing facilities funds to replace a crumbling retaining wall near the Pershing Park Elementary School ball field. The cost for those repairs will be $82,500.
“Pershing Park and 10 other Killeen ISD schools are more than 50 years old, and another, Manor Middle School, is 46. Many of these schools need renovations and repairs that could be funded in part by a bond issue,” according to the news release.
The board is expected to vote on the repairs at its regular meeting Nov. 14.
IF YOU GO
The KISD Board of Trustees will discuss the forthcoming bond issue at this week’s workshop.
Location: KISD administrative office, 200 N. W.S. Young Drive
Day/Time: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
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