After the Killeen school district’s bond steering committee meets Thursday, it may be prepared to recommend a bond package to the school board.
The question is whether the district’s residents will support paying for it when it comes to a vote next May.
Thursday’s meeting is the fourth such gathering for the 50-plus-member committee, and since it first met Nov. 2, members have had to absorb a lot of information.
The committee has received an extensive PowerPoint presentation on the potential projects to be considered, a tutorial on how the bond process works and a presentation by a Dallas-based bond company offering three differently sized bond scenarios and their effect on taxpayers.
That property tax bite varies significantly, depending on the size of the bond — from $44 per year for the smallest-sized bond to more than $200 per year on the largest, calculated based on a $150,000 home with homestead exemption.
Now the committee must consider how big a bond to recommend — and how big a price tag will go with it.
Given the bond’s 30-year payback period, it’s unlikely to be an easy sell to the district’s taxpayers.
The numbers in an informal Killeen Daily Herald online poll bear that out.
The poll, conducted Nov. 19 to 25, asks readers how big a school bond issue they would support, with three size ranges included: $175 million, $350 million and $500 — the three bond scenarios offered to the committee by the Dallas bond company.
The answers also include an option for “Unsure,” based on uncertainty over the potential property tax increase, and “None,” in which readers state they wouldn’t support a bond of any size.
As of midafternoon Saturday, the majority of poll respondents — 55 percent (182 respondents) said they wouldn’t support any bond issue, and another 11.9 percent (39) were unsure.
But surprisingly, respondents who supported the biggest bond comprised the second-largest voting block at 18.4 percent (61).
No doubt, if the district settles on the biggest bond package, it will have to engage in a serious voter-education campaign before voters head to the polls in the spring.
Still, KISD’s mission is far from impossible.
On Nov. 7, Austin voters approved a $1.07 billion school bond, the largest in Central Texas history.
The result was surprisingly clear-cut, with 72 percent of voters coming out in favor of the bond package, which will pay to rebuild several schools, build new campuses and address overcrowding in the district. Just four years ago, voters rejected half of the district’s bond package.
Earlier this year, Belton voters approved the Belton Independent School District’s $149.7 million bond initiative. The money will be used to fund construction of two new schools and pay for improvements to an elementary school and an auditorium.
And in November 2015, voters in Temple ISD approved a $136.5 million bond issue, funding construction of a new elementary, a fine arts center at Temple High School, a new career and technical education center and renovations to existing schools.
The key for Killeen school officials will be selling district taxpayers on the need for the projects proposed. Among the items on the district’s “wish list” are three new elementary schools and a middle school, but the big-ticket item getting all the attention is a new high school — which would be the district’s fifth.
At an estimated cost of up to $171 million, the project would account for nearly half of the midsize bond package scenario and more than one-third of the largest plan.
But so far, it seems to have made the cut.
Bond steering committee members last week ranked project priorities for the proposed bond initiative — using several factors such as urgency, benefit to students and equity — and the new high school ranked second among 13 projects.
The only initiative that ranked higher was providing security and disabilities access at existing schools.
The new high school wouldn’t open until 2022, but as district spokesman Terry Abbott noted, building a high school is a three-year process, and all four existing KISD high schools are overcrowded.
Superintendent John Craft has touted a student population growth rate of 1 to 1.5 percent per year, with the district projected to have nearly 50,000 students in 11 years.
For now, the committee and school board must decide what to include and what to leave out. If they ask for the eight top-rated projects on their list, the bond package price would be $487 million. If everything on the list were thrown in, it would total about $700 million.
That may be a bit too much for district voters to swallow — but nothing is impossible, especially if the district makes a sound argument to the voters.
For now, the committee, the board and superintendent must settle on a potential package. Certainly, they’ve been making progress in that regard, especially now that the potential projects have been ranked by priority.
But over the past month, the focus has been all over the board. Superintendent John Craft initially said a football stadium would be under consideration, then said it was off the table. In the Nov. 9 meeting, Craft proposed a project that would merge East Ward and West Ward schools into a new campus “swing school” — this after Craft proposed selling the Fairway campus a week earlier.
It’s up to the board to sort through the competing projects and put together a coherent package that benefits the students and the community and offers the most for the money.
When district officials determine the package they want, they must spell out the details, hold several public hearings and tout the benefits to voters, It’s imperative that they explain why this is needed, why now, and what’s in it for the district’s students, parents and taxpayers.
After all, if the district’s residents are going to be asked to pay the bill, they ought to feel as if they’re getting a good deal.