Voters weigh pros and cons of $572 million RRISD bond package

Voters will decide the fate of a $572 million bond in Round Rock. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)
Voters will decide the fate of a $572 million bond in Round Rock. (KXAN Photo/Tom Rapp)

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Voters will head to the polls Saturday and decide the fate of a $572.1 million bond package for the Round Rock Independent School District.

Parents on both sides of the debate made a last-ditch effort Friday to stand up for their children and their pocket book ahead of Election Day, by spreading the message to vote.

Michelle Sage has three children who attend schools in the district. She says she voted “yes” on the bond.

“Round Rock is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state and our district is trying to keep up with that,” said Sage. “Part of that is spending money to improve schools that are already there, [and] to build new schools so our schools don’t get overcrowded.”

Other parents disagree.

Patrick McGuinness helped start the grassroots association against the bond, Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers. “We do have some growth. We do have some needs, but this bond is flawed and it’s excessive, and it has a lot of wasteful projects that don’t actually reflect real student needs,” said McGuinness.

Voters will consider three propositions that add up to total the more than half a billion dollar bond package. It includes the building of the district’s 35th elementary school, a brand new high school to be built on land at the corner of Pearson Ranch and Neenah Avenue, an indoor aquatics center, a third outdoor athletic facility and designs for a permanent Early College and Health Professionals High School.

Proposition 1 is worth $381.7 millionProposition 2 is $133.6 million, and Proposition 3 is $56.8 million.

“[It would be] the most expensive high school in Texas,” said McGuinness, regarding the proposed new high school outlined in Proposition 1. “The district has yet to answer decent questions about how they will actually fill up the school. Where are they gonna get the kids for this? We are not a fast-growth district anymore.”

Sage disagrees.

“If the school districts don’t spend money now building schools, we’re going to get behind, and what we love about Round Rock is that it has great schools and that’s not going to happen anymore,” she said. “I trust the school district that our kids are in and I think that if we don’t put the trust in the people leading the school district, then we really need to look at why we’re living there in the first place.”

If all three propositions are approved, officials with the district say the average homeowner will pay an additional $2.23 per month or $26.74 per year on average with a valued home at $290,000. KXAN took a closer look at the small print in the bond presentation. The district expects home values to increase 9 percent next year and then 6 percent in 2019 and 6 percent in 2020.

McGuinness says the rising appraisals, the tax rate increase, and the interest on the debt over 25 years will be closer to his number: a $348 per year increase from today.

Corey Ryan, a spokesperson from Round Rock ISD, says they have a third party do the projections and have community oversight.

“We’re the only Central Texas school district that’s AAA rated by both Moody’s and Fitch and that’s because of some of the financial practices we have in place to make sure we’re benefiting taxpayers in Round Rock,” said Ryan earlier this month.

The last RRISD bond package that passed was in 2014 for $299 million. One of the fastest projects to come to fruition was Joe Lee Elementary off Wells Branch Parkway. The new campus that can hold around 800 students opened with about 500 students in the Fall of 2016 — 16 months after the bond dollars were approved.

Another project just completed from the 2014 bond is a new agriculture science facility at McNeil High School. The ag program serves around 75 students, including freshmen Alexey Ewald, 15, and Jim Yanez, 15. They were giving their new 5-month-old steer, Steve, a bath in the old facility on Friday. The classmates are taking on a new challenge after showing pigs the last several years.

“It’s just good to hear that [voters] are trying to support us,” said Ewald.

To learn details of all the 2017 bond projects; click here.

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