School district leaders expressed surprise and disappointment Wednesday after voters in four school bond elections rejected some or all of the proposals on their ballots Tuesday.

Comal Independent School District voters approved a tax rate increase and two bond propositions in Tuesday’s election, rejecting $81.7 million in athletic facility upgrades. Meanwhile, voters in East Central, Judson, and Southside ISDs declined to approve bond packages that would have addressed growing student populations.

Comal ISD voters OKed the $411.3 million bond proposition to build new schools and the $34.5 million proposition to update district technology. The two bond propositions that failed would have funded $61.4 million in athletic facility improvements and $20.3 million to expand stadium capacity at two high schools.

Judson ISD voters rejected the proposed $302.5 million bond issue that would not have raised the district’s tax rate, set at $1.27 per $100 in property tax valuation. Superintendent Jeanette Ball said Wednesday that she was disappointed the bond issue didn’t pass because it was necessary for the district of about 24,000 students. The bond would have allowed Judson ISD to build two new schools, update technology, and improve athletic facilities.

“Our projects were to provide equity — equity within our district and equity to make sure that when a parent selects Judson ISD, they’re truly picking the very best,” Ball said. “It’s a hard defeat to take.”

A committee of more than 40 students, parents, staff, and other community members worked for a year to draft the bond proposal. Ball said she suspected voters did not approve the bond because the district either “misread the community” or because of new language required on ballots under a 2019 school finance reform law. Since Sept. 1, 2019, ballots in bond elections must state “this is a property tax increase,” even if the bond proposal would not raise tax rates.

Without the bond, Judson ISD won’t be able to add heating and cooling systems to 16 school gyms that currently lack them or build a new elementary and middle school. Ball said she was surprised the bond did not pass because it did not draw any organized opposition.

“My job is to listen to the community and find out from the community why it was that they didn’t want the bond,” she said.

The Comal school district asked voters to approve a higher tax rate and a $527.5 million bond package to meet the fast-growing district’s needs. The district of roughly 27,000 students expects to add 7,500 students in the next five years, which means hiring 420 more teachers and other staff members, according to the district’s website.

In a letter to Comal ISD families, Superintendent Andrew Kim thanked voters for their partial approval of the bond package.

“For you to give us your vote of confidence on three of the five propositions is not something that we take for granted,” he wrote. “We have high expectations for ourselves, and we believe in these expectations. As such, we will work hard to meet them and the expectations of our community, which takes pride in our traditions and values.”

With 51% voter approval, Comal ISD will now raise its tax rate from $1.2757 per $100 property valuation to $1.2920. The average home in Comal ISD is valued at $355,000, and the tax rate increase will raise property taxes about $168 per year for the average homeowner. A home valued at $500,000 will see a yearly tax increase of about $280.

With this tax rate increase, Comal ISD will raise teacher salaries and hourly pay rates for other staff members. Teachers, who currently start at $48,000 a year, and staff will receive a 3% annual pay increase over the next four years. Auxiliary personnel will receive a $1.50 hourly pay raise in 2021 and a 3% annual increase over the next three years. Starting pay for auxiliary personnel ranges between $10 and $13.50 per hour.

Most of the $527.5 million bond issue — $411.3 million — will go toward constructing two new elementary schools and a new middle school, purchasing a replacement site for the Hill Country College Preparatory High School campus, buying 85 new buses, and funding security and infrastructure improvements at multiple campuses. About 55% of voters approved this proposition.

Voters rejected the $61.4 million proposition that would have funded upgrades to secondary school athletic facilities, with 56% voting against the measure. The upgrades would have been done at Canyon High, Canyon Lake High, Davenport High, Mt. Valley Middle, Smithson Valley High, and Smithson Valley Middle schools. New athletics facilities would have been built at Canyon High, Canyon Lake High, and Smithson Valley High schools.

Additionally, voters rejected the $20.3 million proposition to add 5,000 seats to stadiums at both Canyon Lake High and Davenport High schools, with 61% voting against the proposition.

“I’m sorry that I was not able to convince all our voters of the importance of these two propositions as the needs still exist,” Kim wrote in the letter to families. “But we will take this feedback, study it, and figure out how to address the challenges of program growth.”

The rest of the bond issue — $34.5 million — will pay for teacher and student technology upgrades at all campuses. About 56% of voters approved this proposition.

Southside ISD voters overwhelmingly rejected the district’s proposed $52 million bond issue, with 68.5% voting against the measure.

The Southside school district proposed a $52 million bond package that would have paid for projects at six campuses without a tax rate increase. About 5,600 students attend Southside ISD.

In a prepared statement, Superintendent Rolando Ramirez said the district will continue to work with its stakeholders to “ensure the academic success of our students.” He also thanked the students, staff, and community members who participated in the bond process.

“We assure you that we will continue to work to improve our relationship with all members of the community and address any concerns,” he said in the statement.

Voters in East Central declined approving a $175.5 million bond issue, with 53.6% of voters casting ballots against the measure. The bond would have built two new elementary schools and a new middle school, in addition to a new career and technical education facility.

East Central ISD proposed the bond issue because it expects extensive growth in the next 10 years. The district projected adding more than 7,000 students in the next 10 years, reaching an enrollment of 17,200 students in 2030.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.