Regional News

Texas OKs $1.4B for Schools

DALLAS — Texas voters approved more than $1.4 billion in local school bond proposals on Saturday, while rejecting bond requests totaling more than $634 million.

Texas school districts can hold bond elections only in conjunction with local and municipal elections in May and the general election in November.

Joe Smith, president of TexasISD.com and a former school superintendent, said 66 districts submitted bond proposals to voters, for a total request of $2.066 billion of debt. Smith said voters approved 57% of the referendums and 70% of the bonds.

“The school districts requesting approval of larger dollar amounts were approved at a higher percentage than those with lesser dollar amounts,” he said.

Smith said school districts with bond issues for more than $50 million had an approval rate of 87%, with one rejection and six approvals, compared to the approval rate for all districts of less than 60%.

In November 2009, Smith said, voters approved 66% of the 34 bond referendums on the ballot. He attributed the higher rejection rate on Saturday to taxpayer uneasiness in an uncertain economy.

“Taxpayers seem to be concerned about the possibility of increases in federal taxes,” he said. “They see a tax dollar as a tax dollar, and don’t discriminate between federal taxes and local taxes. In this situation, they are going to be very reluctant to increase their property taxes or approve more debt.”

Four school districts in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, received endorsements totaling $650 million of general obligation bonds.

The Northside Independent School District, the largest school system in San Antonio and the fourth largest in Texas, received approval from 65% of the 14,688 voters for a $535 million bond proposal. Voters in the district signed off on $692.7 million of GOs in 2007.

The district will spend $272.3 million, or 51% of the proceeds, on upgrades and improvements at its 104 schools. The remaining $267.7 million, or 49% of the request, will be spent building six new schools.

Northside ISD superintendent John Folks said the bonds would help the district keep pace with growth while financing improvements at its existing schools.

The district has a current enrollment of almost 92,000 students, and expects the count to exceed 100,000 within three years.

Northside ISD’s GO debt is rated Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service, and AA by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch ­Ratings. The debt is enhanced to triple-A through support by the Texas Permanent School Fund.

The district has some $1.64 billion of outstanding tax-supported debt.

Other school districts in Bexar County that passed bond propositions included South San Antonio Independent School District with $58 million of bonds, Alamo Heights Independent School District with $44 million of bonds, and Somerset Independent School District with $13 million of bonds to finance construction of a new junior high school in the rural district.

South San Antonio ISD voters rejected a $62 million bond package in November 2009.

A $159 million proposal by Deer Park Independent School District was approved by 80% of the voters in the ­Houston-area district. School officials said the bonds would finance the Deer Park’s capital program for five to seven years.

The bonds will provide $92.8 million for new and renovated facilities, $32.7 million to replace air conditioning systems and improve parking lots and playgrounds, $28.5 million for instructional projects, and $5 million for security efforts.

Voter in the Ysleta Independent School District turned down a $160 million, multi-part bond package that would have financed two new schools and renovation efforts.

Only 2% of the 106,000 voters in the El Paso County district went to the polls on Saturday. None of the five proposals received more than 958 votes in favor.

Proponents of a $20 million bond referendum by Pine Tree Independent School District said they are considering a request for a recount after the proposal failed by 12 votes, with 1,097 opposed and 1,085 in favor. The district, which serves the East Texas city of Longview, sought the bonds to build a new athletic complex and renovate its sole high school.

In municipal elections, voters in the Dallas suburb of Richardson narrowly approved $66 million of city GOs for streets and other improvements. Voters in McKinney, some 40 miles north of Dallas, favored six GO propositions totaling $51.4 million.



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