Texas voters approve $9.4 billion of local bonds
Texas voters rejected nearly $1.8 billion of bonds Saturday, but most of the $11.2 billion of proposals on local ballots won easy passage in a typically light turnout.
The largest proposal, $1.76 billion of bonds for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District that includes part of Houston, won easily with about 70% support, according to unofficial results.
Support for the largest bond proposal in district’s history came despite a tax increase of 3 cents per $100 valuation that amounts to $40.50 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.
“Cypress-Fairbanks community members continue to be vocal in supporting public education for their children and today, they spoke at the polls,” said Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent of schools said in a prepared statement. “I want to give a heartfelt thank you to the long-range planning committee that spent dozens of hours planning for the district’s future; and district staff and community members who led and facilitated public bond presentations.”
Cypress-Fairbanks is the third-largest school district in Texas.
In nearby Montgomery County, the Conroe Independent School District's $807 million proposal went down to defeat with 55% of voters opposed. The loss was unusual in one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties and one of the most affluent. CISD voters approved $487 million of bonds in 2015.
In nearby Liberty County, 53% of voters rejected a $250 million bond proposal for the Cleveland ISD, one of the fastest-growing in the state.
“As the new superintendent, I want our community to know that we will continue to provide our students an outstanding education, even though we are disappointed in the results,” Chris Trotter, Cleveland ISD superintendent of schools, said in a statement after the results were announced. “I will work to help the community better understand why we need additional funds to accommodate fast growth.”
The district planned to use $130 million in Phase 1 to renovate an elementary school, add a fifth elementary and a second junior high. The remaining funds would have been used to address fast growth.
“We are disappointed that the bond referendum was not approved, but, as a board and a district, we will continue to work to give our students the best education possible. In the upcoming months, we will determine if and when we will go back to voters with another bond proposition,” said Board President Chris Wood.
For signs of encouragement, Cleveland ISD can look to another Houston-area district, Goose Creek Consolidated ISD. Goose Creek saw its results change a year after voters rejected $376.9 million bond proposal that included $50 million for a multi-purpose center. Without the center, voters on Saturday approved $335 million of bonds with 53% in support.
All of the defeated bonds were for school districts, including $422.8 million for the affluent Allen ISD in Collin County, a wealthy suburb of Dallas. With $3.4 billion on the ballot in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, only Allen ISD's proposal was rejected.
In Prosper ISD on the frontier of Collin County's boom, voters approved a record $1.34 billion of bonds while neighboring Princeton ISD won approval of $237.4 million. Celina ISD, also in Collin County, passed a record $600 million.
"These were some of the largest proposals we have ever seen, with two for over a billion dollars," said Joe Smith, a former school superintendent who now runs the Web site TexasISD.com. "These seldom fail and this year is no different as both Cypress-Fairbanks and Prosper's billion dollar bonds passed. I would consider Conroe and Allen as surprises. I have not had and discussions with any of the players at this time but there appears to be some new elements in play this year."
Three bond proposals across the state exceeded $1 billion, and all passed, including Dallas County Community College District’s $1.1 billion proposal that enjoyed 71% approval in a light turnout. It was the district’s first bond request since 2004.
About $535 million of DCCCD's bond proceeds will go toward a complete redesign of El Centro College and the addition of Innovation, Administration and Business Training Centers in downtown Dallas.
The only other community college district on the ballot, Amarillo College, also won voter approval of $89.2 million.
All of the nearly $1.5 billion of bond proposals from city governments, almost all rapidly growing suburbs, won approval.
The Collin County seat of McKinney won strong support for five bond proposals totaling $350 million. Approval ranged from a low of 55% to a high of 72% for the five projects. Unlike school districts, cities can break up the proposals into individual packages, lessening the possibility of complete defeat.
Plano, the heart of the Collin County boom, won $45 million for streets, parks and municipal facilities while Frisco voters granted their city $284 million for similar projects.
Another Dallas suburb, Garland, to the east, saw $412 million of bonds for streets, drainage, parks, public safety, libraries and economic development win approval.
In the Houston area, League City in Galveston County enjoyed strong support for $145 million of bonds to deal with drainage and traffic issues in a community hard hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Voters also authorized a third proposition to boost the city’s sales tax by 0.25% to the state-maximum 8.25% as a means to offset the bonds’ effect on the property tax rate.
Pearland, a suburb south of Houston, won approval of five proposals worth $81 million by comfortable margins.
In the suburbs of San Antonio, New Braunfels, a fast-growing city on the I-35 corridor, easily passed $120 million of bonds for streets, public safety, parks and the library.
Lubbock County, the only one of 254 county governments in Texas to seek bond authority this go-around, won 67% approval for $99.6 million of bonds.
In the Austin area, voters in the well-established Eanes ISD in Travis County approved $80 million of bonds as voters in the Hutto ISD in Williamson County OK'd a record $194 million for upgrades, technology and transportation.
One of the largest school bond proposals to face defeat came from Edinburg Consolidated ISD in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. With 72% opposing, the $220 million school bond proposal was soundly defeated. An organized opposition campaigned against the 5-cent tax hike bonds would have required to build a high school and middle school, two career and technology education centers, and renovations at 17 school gyms, among other facility improvements.
The district in Hidalgo County on the Mexican border is one of the poorest in the state.
This year’s bond election came during the 2019 Texas Legislature session, where major changes in property tax laws and school finance are nearing final approval. To ease pressure on property taxes, lawmakers are considering increasing the state sales tax by 1 cent to support schools.