DALLAS — A facilities advisory committee recommends the Highland Park Independent School District in Dallas County consider putting a $75.4 million bond question before voters in May to get students out of portable facilities. “We’re not seeing the significant enrollment gains some Texas schools are, but we have added about 2,000 kids the past 15 years or so,” said assistant superintendent for business services Ben Coker. “We have portables at five of six campuses and it’s time to look at that as a security issue and get those kids into secure, permanent facilities.” Enrollment in the district’s schools has climbed steadily the past decade to about 6,300 students for the current school year. The school board now begins its due-diligence review of the recommendation. It has until the end of February to decide whether or not to place a referendum on the May ballot, and the first tranche of a new authorization most likely would come to market in July. District voters approved a nearly $50 million bond package in May 1999 and officials have exhausted that authorization. Coker said the district needs to build a new gymnasium to met state mandates on physical education for middle schools students. It also needs to convert some classrooms to science laboratories to comply with recent state legislation, as well, according to Coker. “We go out to voters about once every 10 years as we try to stay ahead of growth … and many mechanical and motorized parts tend to wear down after about eight to 10 years, so we come back to voters when we believe it’s fiscally responsible,” he said. “As our revenue is recaptured [by the state] at 72%, any costs I can pull from operations and get into a bond package ends up saving us money, as I’d be paying three-and-a-half times a much if the monies came from the general-fund budget,” Coker said. Under the so-called Robin Hood program of public-school funding in Texas, the state’s property-wealthy districts — about 20% of roughly 1,035 statewide, including Highland Park — return certain tax revenue to the state, which redistributes those funds to the remaining 80% of property-poor districts. In Highland Park, the original proposal for the May ballot was for a $82.5 million bond package, but officials pared that down after identifying some roofing needs that aren’t as pressing as initially thought. The affluent community, which is encompassed by Dallas, is the only state school district to carry a natural triple-A rating, according to Coker. Moody’s Investors Service rates the district’s credit at Aaa on a nonenhanced basis. Prior to a bond sale a few years ago, analysts said the triple-A rating reflects “notable wealth levels, large tax base, low debt profile, and satisfactory finances despite the fiscal challenges of the district’s status as a wealthy district.” Neither Standard &Poor’s nor Fitch Ratings rates the district’s underlying credit. Highland Park ISD has about $55.4 million of debt outstanding. RBC Capital Markets is the financial adviser to the district. Vinson & Elkins is bond counsel.
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