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DISD’s bond among issues up for vote today

posted on Nov 3, 2015

Voters in Dallas ISD on Tuesday will consider whether to pay for a $1.6 billion bond construction program in an election that’s become highly contentious.

Dallas ISD’s bond election is the biggest local issue, but voters across the state will vote on seven constitutional amendments, including a school property tax reduction and transportation funding. Tuesday’s weather shouldn’t deter voters with sunny skies and highs in the mid-70s predicted.

In North Texas, Allen, Grand Prairie, Highland Park and Rockwall are asking school district voters to approve bonds. Among area cities, McKinney is asking for $160 million, Mesquite for $125 million and Richardson for $115 million in bond projects. Richardson also has proposed 83 charter amendments.

Those for and against the DISD bond have made their feelings known through fliers, yard signs, websites and public forums. Early voting is more than double what it was in the district’s last bond election in 2008.

Supporters say the bond is needed to pay for building repairs, nine new and replacement schools, an additional 326 classrooms, bigger cafeterias, updated technology and more specialty schools. A report indicates that district schools will need $3.2 billion in repairs by 2020.

But opponents say the neediest schools aren’t getting a fair share of the proposed program. They want a complete review of school attendance boundaries before new additions and schools are added. They say they support a bond package, but not this one, and they want to come back in May with another proposal.

The last DISD bond election in 2008 drew 5,711 in early voting compared with 14,057 for this election.

Across Dallas County, there also was a noticeable uptick in early voting. School bonds also have drawn interest in the Park Cities and Grand Prairie, as there was a notable spike at those early voting locations.

Early voters totaled 31,470 at the polls in person and 3,115 by mail — about 50 percent more early voters than in 2013, the last November election that didn’t have state offices on the ballot.

“There was a lot more advertisement being done about the [statewide] propositions, too,” said Toni Pippins-Poole, Dallas County elections administrator. “In Richardson, they did a special mailout to voters and it looks to have doubled their numbers.”

Richardson bond projects focus on police and fire staffing and facility improvements. The bond package comes with no tax rate increase. Some of Richardson’s biggest charter changes required direct election of a mayor in case of a vacancy.

In Allen ISD, voters will consider approving a $272 million bond package — the largest in the district’s history.

District officials said the bond can be financed without increasing the tax rate.

The bond proposals include a new elementary school and a science and technology center for Allen High School. The largest item is $107 million to build a new Lowery Freshman Center and renovate part of the existing building for the district's alternative education program. The ninth-grade campus houses about 1,660 students and is at capacity.

Highland Park ISD seeks a record $361.4 million for new buildings at three elementary schools, renovations to a fourth, and money to purchase land for a fifth elementary school.

Grand Prairie ISD asks voters to approve a tax ratification and a $91 million bond issue.

The tax ratification election would provide more money for maintenance and operations, supplementing the state funding the district receives.

The $91 million bond would be used to renovate existing schools without increasing the interest and sinking tax rate — the revenue used to pay for capital improvements. It would include $40 million for additional construction at Grand Prairie High School: a three-story academic tower, a sports complex, renovations to the ninth-grade wing and additional security.

Rockwall ISD is proposing a $257 million bond package, driven by growth not only in Rockwall but also in parts of Heath, Fate, McLendon-Chisholm, Rowlett and Wylie that are served by the district.

A college and career academy, an elementary school replacement, renovations to two other elementary schools and two new elementary schools make up $194 million of the bond request. Capital projects add $35 million. Safety and security needs for district campuses, along with new buses, are included in the $27.7 million for districtwide improvements.

Rockwall ISD officials estimate the tax impact on a home appraised at $250,000 will be about $10 a month, phased in over a 10-year period.

The county elections administrator said Monday that 4,624 people voted early in Rockwall County. The county has more than 52,000 registered voters.

On the ballot in McKinney is a $160.3 million bond package that won’t require an increase in the city tax rate. The package includes $64.1 million for streets, $50 million for airport improvements, $22.5 million for public safety facilities, $11.7 million for improvements to municipal buildings, $10 million for a parking garage downtown and $2 million for flood protection.

A group of business leaders is encouraging voters to say yes to the whole bond program.

The city is also asking voters to deauthorize $13.4 million in bond money for parks that had been approved earlier. City officials have said that funding for parks is expected to come from the McKinney Community Development Corp., which can use sales tax revenue for quality-of-life improvements.

Mesquite’s election focuses specifically on two-lane residential streets and roads. If it passes, the bond package is expected to cost $91 a year for the owner of an $82,000 average Mesquite home.

Voters in Mesquite ISD, which also includes parts of Balch Springs, Dallas and Garland, will fill a school board vacancy.