The Northside Independent School District board of trustees on Tuesday unanimously called a $992 million dollar bond election, which will occur on May 7.
The proposed bond package would not raise the school district’s tax rate, which is currently $1.26 per $100,000 property valuation. It would fund a new $45 million elementary school, $645.5 million in renovations to existing school facilities and $207.3 million in infrastructure upgrades.
Superintendent Brian Woods said the proposed bond work focuses on upgrades to older campuses, with the most significant renovations at schools that are at least 40 years old.
“There was a long time that this district grew so rapidly that the lion’s share of our bond dollars had to go to building new classrooms and adding onto existing buildings just to manage the growth of students,” he said. “Now that that growth has slowed, we’re able to go — for the first time really ever — to go back and touch these older campuses and try to bring them up to a standard so that those students have similar facilities to the ones who live in our brand new areas.”
The board approved increasing the expected costs of several projects after seeing data from nearby school districts that had recently solicited bids for construction projects and saw the cost estimates come in higher than what the districts had projected. Trustees also agreed to eliminate renovations to Gustafson Stadium, including turf replacement and track resurfacing, because that project would have to be listed on the ballot as a separate proposition.
In addition, the board decided not to include upgrades to the George Block Aquatics Center. Woods recommended NISD renovate the 50-year-old facility with bond and general fund savings.
The $992 million bond issue would fund classroom, gym and cafeteria refurbishments for several elementary schools and upgrades to magnet programs at some secondary campuses. It also would pay for a new $23.7 million baseball and softball complex that would be built adjacent to Sonia Sotomayor High School, which opens in the fall.
The $207.3 million in infrastructure projects range from new chillers and boilers to replacing parts of schools’ air-conditioning and ventilation systems. Another $18.1 million would fund security upgrades, such as new surveillance cameras and video servers, while $14 million would go toward technology updates across the district. The bond also would allow NISD to purchase $15 million worth of new buses and multi-use vehicles.
Woods said the district has not set a specific timeline for all the bond projects to be completed but that the new elementary school must be built almost immediately to address overcrowding of schools. If passed, NISD would finalize a timeline that would maximize savings for the district.
Trustee M’Lissa Chumbley said the requirement under state law to include the language “this is a tax rate increase” on the ballot was wrong. A 2019 school finance reform law mandates that school districts must place this language on any ballot calling for a bond election, even if there is no impact to the district’s tax rate.
“They’re making us lie on our bond proposition,” she said. “This is terrible.”
Woods said the district will do its best to explain to voters that the bond proposal would not impact the tax rate.
“What we’ll have to do in our informational sessions is explain to voters what we’re saying about we’re committed to no tax rate increase,” he said. “The burden is on us to try to explain why that’s the case.”