DALLAS — Trustees of the Socorro Independent School District may ask voters in May to approve a $297 million general obligation bond program to build new facilities for the fast-growing system in El Paso County, Texas.

A 20-member facilities review committee established by the district last year recommended the bond-financed capital improvement program.

The bonds would finance construction of three elementary schools and a middle school.

Other projects include expansion of some campuses, upgrades to air conditioning systems, and additional science classrooms with laboratory facilities.

The board was to consider a resolution setting the bond election for May 14 at its monthly meeting on Jan. 18.

The Socorro ISD’s $322 million of outstanding GOn debt has an underlying rating of AA-minus from Standard & Poor’s, but coverage by the Texas Permanent School Fund enhances the debt to triple-A.

The district covers 136 square miles and includes the town of Socorro and the eastern portion of El Paso.

Due to an eastward expansion of the city, its enrollment grew by 22% from 2002 to 2007. Enrollment growth has slowed down since 2008 to about 1% a year, but growth is expected to resume at a higher rate this year.

Socorro ISD had 41,000 students this year, but officials expect an additional 7,000 students by the beginning of the 2013 school year.

Superintendent Xavier De La Torre said the schools are operating at 90% of capacity, and many are at 97% of anticipated capacity.

The district opened a ninth-grade academy last year designed to eventually become a high school with 1,200 students. Enrollment has already exceeded 900, De La Torre said.

The system would use proceeds from the proposed bonds to convert the campus into a high school several years ahead of schedule, he said.

The district operates 20 elementary schools, six campuses for pre-K to eighth-grade students, eight middle schools, and five high schools.

Antonio Ayub, president of the Socorro ISD school board, said schools to be built or expanded with the proceeds from the proposed bonds would provide the classrooms needed to serve the burgeoning area.

Ayub said he expects 13,000 new homes to be built within the district over the next five years.

The number of people living in the district has grown 6.5% a year since 2003, to a current estimated population of 151,000. If voters approve the bonds, the district’s tax rate would go to $1.24 per $100 of assessed valuation from the current $1.18.

De La Torre said the bond issues would be phased to keep the property tax rate at the $1.24 level. A defeat of the current proposal would require the district to go to a year-around schedule to avoid overcrowding, he said.

Voters rejected a $397 million bond request in November 2007 with 66% opposed. It was the first rejection at the polls of a bond request by Socorro ISD. Several of the projects in the 2007 proposal are included in the current request.

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