Bonds will help local school districts with growth

  • Editorial Board
4:32 p.m Friday, May 5, 2017 Opinion
Cedar Ridge High School seniors at their graduation ceremony June 2 at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park.

Saturday is Election Day for several Central Texas school districts and cities. Though the date may have escaped the minds of many, as is often the case in nonpresidential elections, it is an important one with important local issues on the ballots. They range from selecting the next mayor to deciding on school bonds and choosing local school board members.

As Central Texas continues to grow, more voices need to be heard to help guide how our communities — and in particular, school districts — take shape.

To address the issues of growth, several school districts are asking voters in those districts to support bond packages, including the Round Rock Independent School District, which has presented its taxpayers the largest bond package in the district’s history at $572.1 million.

The district was right to split the bond package into three propositions. In doing so, they’ve given voters options. Residents who show up at the polls can choose the most urgent, which we believe are represented in Propositions 1 and 2, or all three. That approach permits voters to support propositions that best align with their priorities and pocketbooks. If all three propositions pass, the average homeowner could pay an additional $2.23 per month — or $26.74 per year on an average valued home of $290,000.

That is a worthy investment that addresses Round Rock’s ongoing growth.

With funds approved by voters in 2008 and 2014, the district has constructed nearly a dozen schools in the last 10 years to help alleviate overcrowding. Even so, the district’s facilities have not kept pace with its growth and maintenance needs. There is a lot riding on the quality of Round Rock schools, which is among the factors that gives it bragging rights as among the best places to live in the U.S.

Consider that the Round Rock district – with a current student population of 48,100 students — is expected to grow to almost 52,000 by 2027. Current overcrowding means many students must attend classes in portables.

Building new schools won’t solve all of Round Rock ISD’s issues. The district still must address a backlog of maintenance at aging schools, upgrade outdated technology and make much-needed improvements to athletics facilities. As we’ve reported before: Grisham Middle School athletes train in shed without water or air-conditioning.

So, what would $572.1 million get Round Rock ISD?

Prop. 1 — the most expensive of the three propositions at $381.6 million — reflects the district’s highest-priority needs. The proposition includes proposed funding for the construction of a new northeast elementary school, various capital renewal and replacement projects, as well as districtwide technology, safety and infrastructure updates.

Prop. 2 addresses innovation and growth at a cost of $133.6 million. Most notable is the $25 million that would go towards the construction of a career tech high school. The proposed open-enrollment school will focus on helping students receive certifications in engineering, technology and skilled trades, such as HVAC and plumbing. This is a forward-thinking initiative that would provide students who graduate from high school with skills they could take directly into the Central Texas workforce or to college. Prop. 2 also includes proposed funding for expansions as several campuses.

Prop. 3, at $56.8 million, speaks less directly to current academic needs of students and more to the potential opportunities that come with outside partnerships. Prop. 3’s proposed funding for a $22 million indoor aquatics center gives us some pause. District leaders have indicated that the construction of an aquatic center could provide opportunities for a partnership with the city of Round Rock or the YMCA. However, that initiative still is in the talking stages. Again, the district was wise to provide a separate proposition for this item, so voters can decide.

The propositions don’t contain a whole lot of glam for voters. But every item — yes, even an aquatic center — has the potential to bring value to the Round Rock community, including many Austin residents. With 40 percent of Round Rock schools located within the Austin city limits, the investments made will be felt beyond Round Rock.

Yes, off-year elections can be boring — but they are where crucial local decisions regarding schools, city government and tree ordinances are made. We urge voters to get out, vote and be heard.

For more complete Central Texas election coverage, visit www.statesman.com/news/elections/

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