Largest Round Rock ISD bond vote calls for big choices from taxpayers

Round Rock Independent School District taxpayers will head to the polls Saturday to vote on a $572.1 million bond package that school leaders say will help the district address its ongoing growth issues.

Half a billion dollars is not chump change, but the district makes a fair request, given its needs.

Through the district’s bond referendum, Round Rock will be able to simultaneously address current overcrowding, get in front of future growth and offer a better student experience with expanded programs.

Round Rock ISD taxpayers last approved a bond in 2014 to build a new elementary school in the Wells Branch area, a new middle school in the Parmer corridor, and fine arts auditoriums at Cedar Ridge and Stony Point high schools. Prior to that, voters authorized the district in a 2008 bond package election to build three elementary schools in the Stone Oak, Paloma Lake and Parmer areas and additions and renovations to existing facilities.

Such projects spoke to the district’s growth, which continues by 500 students per year. With roughly 48,100 students, the Round Rock district is expected to grow to almost 52,000 by 2027. Current overcrowding means many students must attend classes in portables.

But enrollment growth is not the only issue facing Round Rock schools. There’s a backlog of maintenance at aging facilities. Athletic facilities for several schools need upgrading. Consider that students at Grisham Middle School do their athletic training in a shed. And aging technology across the district also needs upgrading.

Issuing new bonds means taking on new debt. Rising property values will almost certainly mean taxpayers pay higher tax bills. The increase in tax bills will be determined in part by the number of propositions voters approve. If all three propositions pass, for example, the average homeowner could pay an additional $2.23 per month — or $26.74 per year on an average valued home of $290,000.

Voters can be assured those figures have been vetted by experts. Opponents of the bond package – including members of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, and the Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers – would like the public to think otherwise. But it is irresponsible of these groups to push inaccurate numbers that – even by new math standards – don’t add up.

We give the district credit for splitting the bond package — the largest in the district’s history — into three propositions, so that voters have options. They 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.

Prop. 1, which emphasizes growth, renewal and safety, is the most expensive of the three — with a $381.6 million price tag. It reflects the district’s highest-priority needs. The proposition includes $32 million for the much-needed construction of a 35th elementary school in the northeast portion of Round Rock and nearly $80 million for capital renewal and replacement projects. Another $58 million is proposed for districtwide technology and infrastructure updates and purchasing safety equipment like campus alarms, video cameras and communication systems.

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 campus expansions at Caraway, Sommer, Brushy Creek and Forest Creek elementary schools, as well as at Canyon Vista Middle School.

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. It is the proposition’s biggest ticket item — a $22 million indoor aquatics center — that 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. Depending on the terms, taxpayers could benefit from such a partnership. However, that initiative still is in the talking stages, so there are several unknowns, including what a partnership would yield in the way of financial support for an aquatic center that would double for school and public use. Again, the district was wise to provide a separate proposition for this item, so voters can decide.

It’s worth noting that Prop. 3 also includes funding proposals to meet current needs. A track at Hernandez Middle School and improved athletic training facilities at Grisham and Chisholm Middle Schools would be worthy additions. Currently, students at Hernandez share a track with older students at Stony Point High School. A portable serves as Chisholm’s weight room — and as noted, Grisham students have a shed without water or air-conditioning.

Excellent schools — along with safe neighborhoods and proximity to Austin — are among the reasons why various publications have named Round Rock among the best cities to live in America.

Voters can do their part in building on the Round Rock district’s success by investing in schools, renovation, growth and students.

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