DALLAS — Texas voters gave their approval Saturday to almost 70% of the 56 school bond proposals they faced in elections across the state, giving 39 districts the go-ahead to issue new debt.
More than $1.4 billion of general obligation school bonds were approved out of $1.54 billion requested by school districts. It was the lowest amount of debt on the slate since Texas in 2005 restricted school bond elections to May or November.
Forty districts asked for a total of $2.5 billion in November 2010, but only 18 were successful, according to information from TexasISD.com, an online publication geared toward education professionals. The approval rate was higher in May 2010, with 41 winners among the 68 requests for a total of $2 billion.
Joe Smith of TexasISD.com said the high passage rate shows Texans are not reluctant to tax themselves to finance public education.
“These are Texans voting to raise their taxes to pay for things they care about and in this case it is their local public school,” Smith said. “If taxpayers will support tax increases for funding facilities, it is reasonable to expect stronger support for the teachers and administrators that teach in those buildings.”
Smith said efforts in the Texas Legislature to significantly reduce state aid to local districts do not reflect the voters’ educational values.
“The legislators’ mantra has been that voters want less government, and then [they] set about slashing the public education budget,” Smith said, with the result being drastic cuts proposed to school districts in every community, which in turn translates to teacher layoffs.
“I have a completely different take of what the voters want less of, and it is not to cut the budgets of the local schools that their children attend,” he said.
Voters also approved more than $116 million of municipal bonds, but Frisco’s participation in a regional arts center came to an end with the approval of a measure revoking the $16.4 million of bond authorization remaining from $19 million approved by voters in 2002.
The outcome of Mainland Community College District’s request for $87 million of general obligation bonds won’t be known until provisional votes are reviewed and 39 mail-in ballots are counted. Preliminary totals show the measure failed at the polls by two votes, with 3,270 opposed and 3,268 in favor.
The provisional ballots were cast by voters whose eligibility has not been determined.
Michael Elam, president of the junior college district, said it could be Wednesday before the result is clear.
Voters narrowly turned down a $103 million bond proposal in 2009.
The Galveston Bay-area junior college district encompasses school districts in Dickinson, Hitchcock, La Marque, Santa Fe, and Texas City.
The Socorro Independent School District’s request for $297 million, the largest single proposal on Texas ballots, won with 56% support.
Xavier De La Torre, superintendent of the El Paso County district, said the proceeds would allow the school system to prepare for an influx of students expected from the expansion of nearby Fort Bliss.
The district adds 1,200 to its enrollment each year, De La Torre said, but expects that to rise to 1,500 new students a year within five years as the Army base grows. The district currently has 42,000 students.
The McKinney Independent School District’s proposal for $191 million of GO bonds was popular with the voters in the north Dallas suburb, with 74% in favor.
Superintendent J.D. Kennedy said the new debt will finance expansions and renovations at existing facilities rather than construction of new ones. He said McKinney ISD had considered adding a fourth high school to the bond proposal, but opted instead to focus on upgrading the current campuses.
Voters in the Richardson Independent School District overwhelmingly approved $170 million of bonds for facility upgrades and repairs, and new technology. The new debt will not require an increase in the Dallas-area district’s property tax rate.
A two-part, $136.5 million proposal by the Hurst-Euless Bedford Independent School District passed overwhelmingly, with 65% and 75% in favor. The suburban Dallas district will replace deteriorating roofs, upgrade technology, and build a new career and technology center.
It had not asked voters for new debt since 1997.
The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District’s request for $124.5 million of GO bonds was approved by 68% of a record turnout of 5,466 voters.
The district between Dallas and Fort Worth had successful bond elections in 2005, 1998, and 1993.
Proceeds will provide $14 million of facility upgrades at Grapevine High School and $9.2 million at a middle school, $32.9 million for enhanced technology, and $27.3 million of roof repairs.
The Denison Independent School District in North Texas will build a new high school with $79.5 million of bonds approved by voters Saturday. The district will consolidate its seven middle schools into five, with a separate campus for fifth and six grades.
Voters in the Eanes Independent School District near Austin approved a $54 million bond proposal with 63% in favor, six months after a $150 million bond request was voted down in November 2010.
The 17 school bond proposals rejected by voters include the Seguin Independent School District’s request for $97.5 million to build a new high school and the Daingerfield-Lone Star Independent School District’s $28.8 million proposal.
Proposals winning approval at May 14’s municipal elections include Longview’s $52.6 million for street upgrade efforts.
Several existing roads will be rebuilt or widened, and the city’s 45 miles of oil-surfaced streets will be replaced with pavement.
After four misfires, $35 million of jail bonds sought by Smith County won in a landslide with 63% in favor. Only 5% of eligible voters in the east Texas county came to the polls.
“If you want law enforcement, you need jails,” Sheriff J.B. Smith said. “It is that simple.”
Bond projects will raise the jail’s maximum capacity to 1,139 from the current 755. Since the state ordered Smith County to reduce its jail population in 2004, it has spent $17 million to house prisoners elsewhere.
Georgetown voters approved the city’s request for $29.5 million of GO bonds to build a new public safety facility for administration and training.