DALLAS – Fort Bend Independent School District plans to split its $1.7 billion bond proposal into two phases, with elections three years apart.
The growing district in the affluent western suburbs of Houston aims to update and add facilities over a six-year period, chief operating officer Oscar Perez told the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees in an update in planning for the November election.
Administrators are proposing a $992 million bond proposal in November.
“We had a lot of discussion about how to break this up, and we decided it would be better to go to a two-phase approach,” Perez said. If the first election is held in November, the next would be in 2021, Perez said.
The board is expected to make a final decision on calling the election this month.
One possible complication in postponing some of the bonds could come from the state Legislature that meets in Austin next year. Some lawmakers have proposed a requirement that at least 30% of registered voters turn out to pass a bond proposal. Bond elections typically suffer very low turnouts.
Fort Bend ISD chief financial officer Steven Bassett said he was hearing that even if such a bill were passed, it probably would be phased in over several years.
Board member Addie Heyliger said administrators had spent months urging trustees to rush the larger bond proposal to voters in anticipation of a new law on voter turnout.
“It would have made some of the decisions we voted on turn out differently, at least for me personally, because I felt I like I was boxed in to make certain decisions because we had this paranoia, this fear, because of this new legislation,” Heyliger said.
Breaking the bond proposal into two packages could help passage, because the measures would fall below $1 billion, said Superintendent Charles Dupre. In the last school bond elections in Texas last May, no proposal exceeded $1 billion.
Four high schools are slated for renovations that account for more than 65% of the $118.8 million proposed for district-wide upgrades for high school campuses.
Perez said the district is nearing completion of projects funded by a 2014 bond package of $484 million on time and under budget.
The district priced $60 million of school bonds from the 2014 package on Tuesday with final maturities in 2048. The bonds had underlying ratings AA-plus from S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings with a triple-A wrap from the Texas Permanent School Fund.
Fort Bend Independent School District serves an estimated population of 426,939, with median household effective buying income rated “very strong” by S&P at 154% of the national level.
The District has faced challenges with state funding budget cuts while its enrollment and economically disadvantaged population continues to grow, officials said.
“Our average age of facilities is 25 years,” Dupre said. “Based on what I’ve seen, we have under-invested in our facilities.”