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Voters reject $572 million in bonds for Round Rock schools

The defeat of the Round Rock school district’s $572 million bond package late Saturday sparked celebration among taxpayer activists — and hand-wringing among schools advocates who say the district is now in a difficult situation of having to address strategic goals with a lack of money.

Proposition 1, which would have paid for construction of the district’s sixth high school and its 35th elementary school and for improvements to aging facilities, was defeated with 52 percent opposition.

Proposition 2, which would have funded a districtwide career tech high school and expansions at several schools, failed with 53 percent opposition.

And Proposition 3, which included plans for an indoor aquatics center and other athletics and arts facilities, was shot down with 57 percent opposition.

Patrick McGuinness, a member of the Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers political action committee, which opposed the bond package, said the votes against it were “a true rejection from the community.”

“This really sends a clear message,” said McGuinness, who gathered with other bond critics at Z’Tejas Mexican restaurant in North Austin to watch the election results Saturday night. He and others opposed the cost of the bond package to taxpayers and raised questions about whether bond proponents had followed campaign rules.

“It was bad for the taxpayers, but it was also bad for the students and the schools,” McGuinness said. “It didn’t address students’ needs.”

As the election returns rolled in, some of the bond opponents at Z’Tejas took shots of tequila from Sonic cups as they cheered in celebration. The cups were a reference to an email sent from one district principal offering Sonic happy hour drinks for teachers who voted early in the election.

The mood was much different at the watch party for Round Rock school district staffers and current and former trustees at the district administration building.

District spokesman Corey Ryan said the bond package would have provided funding for infrastructure maintenance and aging technology. “Those are pretty big needs we’ll need to find a way to fund really soon,” he said.

Ryan added that the district’s schools are overcrowded, and the new high school and elementary school would have remedied that problem.

Catherine Hanna, chairwoman of the pro-bond Classrooms for Kids PAC, said those advocating for the bond package dealt with misinformation disseminated publicly, particularly in the Travis County part of the school district, where the bonds received less voter support.

For instance, the school district said the bonds would cost the owner of the typical $290,000 home an extra $26.75 in taxes a year. But critics, including former Austin City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who leads the Travis County Taxpayers Union, argued that the cost would be much higher.

“It’s hard to fight things that are represented as facts that are not facts,” Hanna said.

Voters rejecting the bond package puts the district in a difficult situation, she said.

“The district has to sit down and decide how to implement the strategic vision that the community agreed on without having the funds to do some of the projects that complete that vision,” she said.

Ryan also expressed concern over the voter turnout in Saturday’s election. Among 272,000 people living in the district, he said, fewer than 15,000 voted this election.

“I would just say we would hope for more participation, for more people to come out and tell us what they want us to be doing as a school district,” he said.

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