Killeen school board trustees have a big decision facing them when they meet this week.
Actually, make that two big decisions.
The first is whether to place a proposed $426 million bond issue on the May 5 ballot.
The second is whether to split the issue into two parts — one proposition calling for $235 million in construction and the other for $191 million.
Either way, the district’s taxpayers would be asked to shoulder the burden for some significant bond indebtedness.
The bond issue has been under discussion since October, when Superintendent John Craft decided that because of need and rising construction costs, it would be better to propose a bond issue sooner, rather than later.
Craft has been very clear that the district is in dire need of a fifth traditional high school. Overcrowding at the existing high schools plus continuing district enrollment growth has made building another school a top priority, Craft said.
And, considering it takes at least three to four years to plan and build a high school, the district could not afford to wait on calling a bond issue, he argued.
With an estimated cost of $171 million, the new high school is not something that can be built with available funds; a bond issue is the only option.
The proposed high school is among three projects included in the $235 million proposition — should the board decide to split the bond.
The other two projects are security upgrades and renovations to existing campuses to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and a new elementary school.
Both the new high school and elementary school would open in the 2022-2023 school year.
Among the projects included in the $191 million proposition would be consolidation of East Ward and West Ward elementaries with construction of a new East Ward campus; consolidation of Pershing Park and Sugar Loaf elementaries with construction of a new Pershing Park facility; and renovations of Killeen High School, as well as other campuses over 50 years old.
The $80 million price tag on the KHS renovation project was one of the reasons board members opted to propose splitting the bond issue.
But whatever the board members decide this week, there are no guarantees come May 5.
If the board members opt to split the bond issue on the ballot and voters subsequently approve only the smaller portion, the district still doesn’t get its new high school — at least, not right now.
If the board votes to move the bond issue forward as one piece and voters balk at the $426 million figure, the district gets no funding, and it’s back to the drawing board.
The Killeen City Council’s recent decision to defer calling its own bond issue to build new roads in the area of the proposed new schools may work both for and against the school district.
On one hand, the $30 million city bond would have pushed the total price tag for KISD residents who live in Killeen to more than $450 million. This might have been the tipping point to prompt voters to vote “no” at the polls.
On the other hand, since the city backed off on proposing its road bond, voters may have less of a sense of urgency to approve the funding for the school district’s construction projects.
However, city officials are to be commended for taking their time to evaluate other funding mechanisms before reaching out to residents for the road project money — some of which would have gone to upgrade county-owned roads. Even if no other funding can be found, it will take less time to build the roads than it will to construct the schools — so the city has time to check out its options.
As far as the school board, its options are few: propose the full bond, split the bond or don’t put it on the ballot.
Considering all the hard work that has gone into the initiative over the last four months, it’s unlikely board members will call the whole thing off at this point.
Unless the board comes up with a last-minute option this week, voters will be looking at a $426 million bond issue in May — in one form or another.
For the district, its taxpayers, students and parents, this is a big deal.
As former KISD board president Mike Helm said at a bond steering committee meeting last fall, the district only has one chance to get this right. It can’t just go back to the voters again next year.
With that in mind, board members will have a lot to think about. If they can’t make a decision Tuesday, a backup meeting is scheduled for Thursday, ahead of Friday’s deadline to place something on the May ballot.
Whatever they decide, the district must work hard in the coming months to present a compelling argument for passage of the bond issue.
The district’s future may well depend on it.