INFORMING VOTERS: Austin-area school bonds top Nov. 7 ballot measures

Voters on Tuesday will decide on the $1.1 billion Austin school district bond package, the largest attempted in Central Texas.

The bonds would pay to build more than a dozen schools, revamp deteriorating campuses and address overcrowding.

The Austin district lumped all of the projects into an all-or-nothing proposition after voters rejected half of its 2013 bond package, which was broken into four ballot measures.

A key selling point among proponents, which has become more common among school districts in recent years, is that the passage of the bonds would not increase the tax rate. To layer in the debt and keep the tax rate flat, district leaders are banking on increased property values, issuing the bonds as debt is paid down and getting low-interest rates. But even if the tax rate remains the same, homeowners are likely to pay more property taxes because property values are expected to continue to rise.

If the bond measure passes, construction could begin as early as the fall of 2018.

Several projects would be fast-tracked: the rebuilding of Govalle, Menchaca and Brown elementary schools; a new school in Southeast Austin to relieve Blazier Elementary’s overcrowding; a new school in Southwest Austin to relieve overcrowding at Kiker and Baranoff elementaries; and a new campus for Eastside Memorial High. Eastside is being moved to pave the way for the overcrowded Liberal Arts and Science Academy at LBJ High to expand into Eastside’s current location at the Johnston campus.

If voters reject the bonds, the district will need to lean on its operations budget, which already was in deficit, to fix emergency facility needs.

“This scenario becomes particularly ominous as the district has a shortfall in its operating budget and it would be unable to cover all of the costly repairs for aging facilities,” said Nicole Conley Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, who is overseeing the bond package.

Other propositions before Central Texas voters are:

Travis County — A $185 million bond package, broken into two propositions, that includes new roads as well as parks and drainage projects. Proposition A covers $93.4 million in roads and drainage projects. Proposition B covers $91.5 million in parks and land conservation projects, as well as a sports complex.

Leander school district — $454 million for four new schools, nine parcels of land for schools, a second transportation facility and security entrances at secondary schools, among other things. District officials also say the tax rate would remain flat and would be covered by growth and rising property values.

Lake Travis school district — A $253 million bond package, as well as a “tax swap.” The bond measure would pay for two schools and seat belts in all of the district’s buses, among other things. For the tax swap, the district would maintain the same tax rate by increasing the part of the rate that pays for day-to-day operations while reducing by the same amount the part of the rate that is for debt repayment. If approved, the tax swap would generate an additional $2.1 million annually to run day-to-day operations. While raising the operations portion of the tax rate requires voter approval, the district can increase its debt portion of the tax rate in the future without voter approval.

Eanes school district — Also seeking approval for a tax swap, but its overall tax rate will decrease. The district would generate an additional $2.8 million annually by increasing the operations portion of the tax rate by 2 cents and decreasing the debt repayment portion by 3.25 cents. If voters approve, the overall tax rate would decrease to $1.20 per $100 of assessed value.

Bastrop school district — An $88 million bond package to upgrade facilities and boost capacity, including adding a second floor to Cedar Creek High School that would make room for 600 more students. Last November, voters rejected a $75 million bond proposal and a 13-cent tax increase meant to renovate and expand facilities.

Seven state constitution amendments — The amendments include property tax breaks for spouses of first responders who die on duty, changes to home equity loans, and limits to the holdover provision on governor-appointed officeholders, which would require that expired terms end when the next regular session of the Legislature ends.

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