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Committee presents $190 million school bond proposal

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A proposed bond referendum for Elgin ISD would provide new buildings and upgrades critical to addressing population growth without increasing the tax rate, committee members who worked on the bond recommendations this summer told the school board last Monday.

The proposed bond package was presented by Gena Carter and Tim Schultz, who are members of the Citizen's Bond Advisory Committee as well as members of the Elgin ISD Education Foundation.

First, Carter told the school board about how the process of putting together the bond package worked.

This spring, Elgin ISD appointed the Citizen's Bond Advisory Committee, which was given the duty of representing the Elgin community in assessing the school district’s needs, planning the needed facilities, and developing a bond package for the November 2021 election and presenting their recommendation to the Elgin ISD Board of Trustees.

The committee is made up of 30 community leaders, parents, teachers, students and business owners from across the district, and includes Adriana Hernandez, Amy Miller, Barry Barker, Betty Lofton, Cheryl Reese, Dan Kleiner, Danny Gonzales, David Glass, Dr. Bill Satterfield, Ed Rivers, Elizabeth Owen, Ericka Greenfield, Forest Dennis, Gena Carter, Harlan Neidig, JD Harkins, Jeff Carter, Jerry Edmon, John Altmiller, Jonathan Soto, Magaly Rangel, Mary Penson, Nathan Mackey, Patrick Maas, Rev. Steven Ward, Sandy Menley, Sarah Gudenkauf, Sue Beckwith, Theresa McShan and Tim Schultz

The committee met eight times each Thursday throughout May and June. During meetings, committee members learned about the school finance system, reviewed demographic projections and district needs, heard from students and staff, and even took a tour of various campuses and facilities on May 13.

Carter summarized some of the demographic projections for the next ten years at Elgin ISD. Enrollment already exceeds capacity at Elgin High School and Booker T. Washington Elementary School, and will exceed capacity within the next few years for Neidig Elementary School and the intermediate and middle schools.

“The entire committee recognized the need to address growth at all levels in our proposed bond package, and we quickly realized that our challenge would be to identify the best and most cost-effective solutions to do this,” Carter said.

The committee was presented with many priority projects to choose from, from new elementary schools to upgrades to Wildcat Stadium, along with the scope of work and the justification for each project. Carter said the cost of all identified priority projects totaled over $300 million. Elgin ISD can levy up to $195 million in bond debt without raising the tax rate, so the committee was tasked with choosing which projects should be included in a bond package that does not exceed this amount.

“After weeks of presentations from Elgin ISD leadership and the industry professionals, taking into consideration what we had learned, our committee was tasked with deliberating over which projects could be and should be included in the bond recommendation,” Carter said.

In order to make decisions, the committee had a three-round voting process. Each committee member had been divided into tables throughout the process, and when the time for decisions arrived, each table voted on each item. Depending on how tables voted, projects would either be immediately accepted into the recommendation, marked for the next round of discussions, or eliminated from consideration. If there were disagreements, then groups of tables voted, and finally the entire committee voted. 

“We were thankful that our committee only actually needed one round of voting; we were pretty unified,” Carter said.

Next, Schultz presented the details of the bond committee’s recommendation for the proposed bond package.

The recommended bond package is split up into three separate propositions: a new video scoreboard and press box expansion for Wildcat Stadium, a new indoor practice facility, and all of the construction and maintenance projects.

The new video scoreboard and press box expansion would be the first step in expanding Wildcat Stadium as the school district grows. The expanded press box would accommodate the equipment needed by the new scoreboard. The committee was given a couple of options for this project and chose the less costly option for $7,236,000 that could be added on to in the future.

The indoor practice facility, which would cost $11,048,400, would provide space for athletic programs and other groups to practice and rehearse, even in bad weather, and would accommodate the school’s programs as they grow.

The bulk of the bond package would be a $171.7-million proposition for building and expanding education and administration facilities:

  • Two new elementary schools for $32,479,620 each would address projected future enrollment by increasing capacity at both the elementary and intermediate levels. The plan is to move the fifth-graders back to the elementary schools, leaving the sixth grade at the intermediate school.
  • Elgin High School, where enrollment already exceeds capacity, would be renovated and expanded for $62,032,651. The committee chose the more cost-effective solution to addressing population growth, rather than building an expensive new campus to house the 11th and 12th grades. The expansion would include an auditorium.
  • The facilities for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs would be improved for $2,944,399, allowing for flexibility and growth in CTE program offerings and accommodating increased student interest.
  • Selected high-priority maintenance projects and upgrades “top-to-bottom” across each campus in the school district would cost $17,521,516 to take care of existing facilities. These projects include mechanical replacements, technology upgrades, roofing repairs and window replacements.
  • The committee allocated $5 million to purchase additional land for future growth.

The committee’s recommendation for the 2021 bond totals $190 million. As the school district’s current bond capacity is $195 million, the bond package would result in no tax rate increase for Elgin ISD taxpayers. Elgin ISD hasn’t put a bond on the ballot since 2007. Schultz cited the district’s past financial stewardship and the future growth of property values in the district as the reason for a $190 million bond package not impacting the tax rate.

The bond package as recommended would include improvements for each of the district’s campuses, and therefore would positively impact each Elgin ISD student, Schultz concluded.

“I am a father of three graduates of Elgin ISD, and the tour that we did with the committee was really eye-opening to me,” he said. “I never noticed or realized the tight quarters we occupy in Elgin, and how you get your job done every day. I think this is a great decision and direction to move for these kids, and our Elgin kids deserve that.”

Board member Pete Bega asked if the projects’ costs will stay the same over the next few years. When coming up with the estimated costs, said director of operations Rainey Lann, they use the projected enrollment to determine when a new campus would be needed, and factor inflation for that year into the final cost. For example, the cost for the elementary schools include inflation for 2024, the year that the schools could potentially be built.

Board vice president Beth Walterscheidt asked if the intermediate school would only house sixth-graders. Superintendent Dr. Jodi Duron said the intermediate school would be a one-grade campus temporarily, since Elgin ISD will likely need another bond soon to fund a second middle school. She added that Elgin ISD will soon be in the same situation as other fast-growth districts, such as Leander and Round Rock, that have to go out for bonds every few years to keep up with growth.

“Call it growing pains, because we’ll have kids moving to different configurations,” Duron said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s how it works.”

Board secretary Valarie Neidig asked which projects would be built first, the stadium upgrades or the additions to the high school. Lann said the school district would want to address growth-related needs more quickly than upgrading the stadium, and the elementary schools and high school projects would be funded first. These projects also have the longest construction cycle, he added: an elementary school could take 10 to 12 months to build, and the high school renovation would take even longer.

Board president Byron Mitchell asked what Carter and Schultz thought about the citizen committee process. Carter said she enjoyed the process. She added that the committee’s work is not done, as committee members have begun organizing in order to promote the bond among the Elgin community.

“We live in an economically-disadvantaged community, and when you start talking about these kinds of numbers, we do expect there may be some pushback,” she said. “We are prepared to move forward and definitely understand that there is a challenge ahead, but we’re ready to work on it.” 

The proposed bond package will be brought back to the school board for their August 16 meeting to vote on placing the referendum on the November 2021 ballot.


Proposed tax rate set; rate to decrease this year

The board also scheduled a public meeting to adopt the next budget and tax rate, and set the proposed tax rate to be published in the public notice before the next meeting.

During the next scheduled meeting of the school board on August 16 at 7 p.m., the budget and tax rate for the 2021-22 year will be discussed, then adopted.

The proposed maximum tax rate to be published in the public notice, which is the maximum rate that could be adopted, is a maintenance and operations (M&O) rate of $1.0517 and an interest and sinking (I&S) rate of $0.4682 for a total of $1.5199 per $100 of property value.

The maximum rate should be published in the notice for the proposed tax rate, Chief Finance Officer Heather Escalante said, because the board cannot adopt an actual tax rate higher than this amount. However, the actual M&O rate, and the tax rate as a whole, will be lower than this amount, because the school district must use the compressed rate that the Texas Education Agency provides based on certified property values in the district. By state law, the M&O rate is compressed when property values increase by more than 2.5%; the more property values grow, the lower the compressed rate. The property value information for this year’s tax rate will be available in late July or early August.

Based on the property value data currently available, the estimated M&O rate brings the actual tax rate for 2021-22 closer to $1.4285, instead of $1.5199. This is the tax rate that the proposed budget for 2021-22 will be based on, Escalante said.

Compared to the tax rate adopted for 2020-21 of $1.4607 per $100, this year’s actual proposed tax rate is a decrease of $0.0322.

The school board emphasized that the overall tax rate will be decreasing this year, not increasing.