Leander district approves $454.4 million bond for new schools, growth


Highlights

The bond calls for four new schools, land purchases, a second transportation facility, among other things.

District leaders said, with student growth and area’s construction boom, they won’t need to raise the tax rate.

The Leander school board Thursday night approved putting a $454.4 million bond election before voters in November.

The bond package, the first the district has called for in a decade, largely would fund projects for the district’s growth.

The 39,100-student district, which stretches 200 square miles across Cedar Park, Leander and swaths of northwestern Travis County and Austin, is projected to grow by at least 1,100 students annually over the next four years.

The bond would fund four new schools; nine purchases of land for schools; design work for two other secondary schools; a second transportation facility and new buses; secure entrances at the secondary schools; and various expansion and maintenance projects, among other things.

The amount was slightly more than that recommended by a bond advisory committee. Trustees decided to reduce the technology budget by $9 million to make room for optional projects that would boost career and technical education, including the addition or renovations of agriculture barn facilities at three high schools, a junior ROTC building at another high school and two business incubator classrooms at two high schools. The change increased the bond from the proposed $453.9 million to the approved $454.4 million.

District leaders said they won’t need to raise the tax rate if voters approve the bond. Growth and new home construction will offset the tax impact, they say. The Austin school district, which also will go before voters in November with a $1.1 billion bond package, also is promising no tax rate increase. And voters approved a $250 million Hays school bond in May, which district leaders also said won’t increase the tax rate there.

But Leander could face obstacles in persuading voters to approve more debt. The district has been criticized in recent years for the amount of debt — and the kind of debt — it incurred: nearly $2.8 billion, with nearly $992 million in principal and $1.8 billion in interest.

Much of what the district borrowed was in the form of capital appreciation bonds, or CABs, a controversial pay-later method to build facilities, though district officials said they moved away from such bonds and have worked to pay down the debt more quickly.

The school board Thursday night also approved its 2017-18 budget of $443.9 million, which includes $326 million for operations. The budget includes an average of 3 percent raises for employees, start-up funds to open Akin Elementary, money to educate an additional 1,178 students and 138 new hires.

While the tax rate remains the same at $1.51 per $100 of assessed value, with $1.04 for operation and 47 cents for debt repayment, the average homeowner will likely pay more. The average taxable home value increased $21,600 over last year. School taxes on the average taxable home valued at $310,769 would equal $4,698.42, a $326.64 increase over last year.



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