Texas voters consider $6 billion of local bond requests
DALLAS — Voters across Texas will consider more than $6 billion of bond proposals in the May 5 election, a bit more than half the amount they requested in November.
Approximately $5.2 billion of the total comes from school districts, led by San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District’s $848.9 million proposal.
Among the marquee city bond proposals is Fort Worth’s $400 million request, the largest in the city’s history.
The top five proposals on the ballots all come from school districts, most in rapidly growing suburban areas where planners are struggling to keep up with demand.
Denton ISD north of the booming Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has the second-largest proposal and the largest in the district’s history at $750 million. The largest piece of the proposal is $194 million for a new Denton High School.
“Nearly 25 percent of Denton ISD schools are 40 years or older,” bond committee co-chairwoman Lauren Baccus said during a presentation at the January board meeting. “These campuses are inequitable to the district’s newer campuses. We visited a lot of these campuses and saw how in dire need some of them are.”
Denton ISD has about $1.4 billion in bond debt. District officials said they work each year to bring that debt down, having paid off $134 million so far.
Fast-growing Humble ISD in the Houston area is seeking $574 million to accommodate new students. The bond proposal is the district’s first in a decade.
By 2028, the district is expected to add 55,000 students, according to trustee Robert Sitton.
That “would mean we are going to grow by another 31% from where we are at today,” he said.
If the bonds are not approved by voters in May, HISD will run out of funds to build new schools it has planned for the 2019-20 school year, officials said.
Killeen ISD, which serves the Fort Hood Army post in Central Texas, has waited 16 years to call a bond election and is now asking voters to approve $426 million of debt to upgrade and grow facilities. With an enrollment of 45,000, Killeen ISD is the 26th largest in the state. Passage of the bonds would allow the district to replace many portable buildings with permanent classrooms.
Another Houston-area district that is rapidly growing after multibillion-dollar expansions at petrochemical companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, Goose Creek Consolidated ISD, is asking voters for a record $376.9 million. The debt would go toward completion of a career technical high school and a robotics lab, among other projects.
Southeast of Dallas, the Mesquite ISD is asking voters for $325 million in anticipation of future development.
The proposal, supported by 70% of voters in a recent survey, comes three years after another successful bond measure. Those bonds provided five new campuses, upgrades and additions to current campuses and technology while drastically reducing the number of portable classroom buildings.
“Although enrollment levels have remained essentially flat this year, there are these home sites that are waiting to be developed,” said school district spokeswoman Laura Jobe. “We know that the southern part of our district is about to explode.”
In the Mid-Cities area between Dallas and Fort Worth, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD is asking voters to approve $199 million to build two elementary schools and repurpose another, renovate and expand all five junior high schools and upgrade technology across the district. If approved by voters in the May 5 election, the bond issue would raise the tax rate by 9.4 cents over two years. With 23,400 students currently, H-E-B officials are expecting growth of about 400 new students a year for the next several years.
Northside ISD’s record bond proposal comes four years after voters overwhelmingly approved the previous record $648 million to manage growth. Most of the new money will go toward existing schools. More than half of Northside’s schools are 25 years old or older.
In a report issued Monday, Moody's Investors Service maintained a stable outlook on Northside ISD's Aa1 rating while adding that "the profile is constrained by an elevated, though manageable, debt burden, future issuance plans, as well as exposure to variable rate debt."
Other large school district proposals include: $200 million from New Caney ISD, $150 million from Laredo ISD on the Texas-Mexico border, $149 million from the San Angelo ISD in West Texas, and $132 million from the rapidly growing Dripping Springs ISD south of Austin.
This year’s school bond proposals total about 28% less than the $8 billion on last November’s record. In the last election, Austin ISD led all proposals with more than $1 billion of bonds. This year, no issuer has a $1 billion proposal.
Among the larger proposals from Texas cities is the $131 million from Wichita Falls near the Oklahoma border in North Texas. The money would go toward improvements on parks and trails, the city’s Municipal Auditorium, and downtown streetscape. The voters are also asked to pay for a new city complex that includes city hall, police, and fire departments.
Less than a year after Hurricane Harvey swept ashore, some cities in the coast areas are seeking money for drainage improvements.
To the southwest of Houston, the city of Katy is seeking $10.25 million for drainage and $5 million for a new sewer plant, along with $4.25 million for streets.
In the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, McAllen is asking voters to approve $22 million for drainage projects and $3 million for traffic upgrades.
Texas law restricts such local bond elections to two dates a year — in May and November.
The May ballot’s total is about 51% of the record $11.7 billion that appeared on November ballots and about 26% less than the $8.2 billion on the May 2017 ballot.