Voters in San Antonio Independent School District will decide in November whether to approve a $1.3 billion proposition, the largest bond package in City history.

SAISD voters last approved a district bond in 2016, passing a $450 million package for renovation projects at 13 schools. Split into two ballot items, the $1.3 billion package would not cause a tax increase for SAISD residents, according to district projections.

The first item will ask for $1.21 billion in school renovations at 36 campuses spread throughout the school district. The money will fund substantial renovations or a complete remodel of the campuses, according to a district document. The document outlines which schools will be included in bond work.

The bond funds would help renovate 21 schools with main buildings that have not had full renovations for more than 50 years.

Money from the bond would also help complete the final phase of campus renovations at 15 campuses that received partial renovations under the 2016 and 2010 bonds.

The district promised its voters that by the completion of the 2020 bond projects, all district classrooms will have updated technology to 21st century standards and have upgraded security. Additionally, each campus with an outdated chiller for air conditioning will have it replaced.

In its recommendation to the school board, SAISD’s bond committee recommended that Smith Elementary also be added to the bond list. The committee took a tour of Smith and noticed some issues, especially for students with special needs.

“Once you get into the building, there’s no working elevator, there’s no way for anybody who is on crutches or in a wheelchair [to get in],” Blue Ribbon Task Force co-chair Victoria Moreno-Herrera said of her tour at Smith. “They have to get buzzed in, go around the building, go up a ramp, come back out the building.”

The committee recommended the district pay special attention to students with special needs and to areas where there has been “a chronic lack of investment such as outdated restroom facilities at particular campuses.”

Members of the committee also wrote that the board should “prioritize investments that allow the district to sustain and scale successful academic programs while considering issues of overcrowding.”

The second proposition would address $90 million in technology needs throughout the district and would equip each classroom with high-speed connectivity, audio systems, support tools, interactive smart boards, and necessary infrastructure. Some of this money would refund SAISD for device purchases used to get students set up for remote learning.

Should voters approve the bond items in November, the money will finance a lengthy list of projects on a 2030 master plan. The total cost to address the list is between $2 billion and $2.5 billion. The 2020 proposed bond is the first step in tackling all the projects. The district anticipates another bond in the future that will address the second half of this list.

“While 1.3 billion sounds like a lot and it is, I know that districts across the state, districts across the country are doing much larger amounts,” Trustee Ed Garza said. “To me, it’s not necessarily how big the bond is, it’s really about how effectively we can implement this bond.”

Trustee Art Valdez pledged his support for passing the bond, observing that his six decades in the district have shown him the need for campus improvements to get schools looking like they belong in the 21st century.

Other districts throughout the State have floated larger bond packages, although no San Antonio district has proposed such a large bond. Last week, Dallas ISD trustees voted unanimously to ask voter approval on a $3.7 billion bond package. In 2018, voters in San Antonio’s largest school district, Northside ISD, passed an $849 million bond, the largest for that district at the time. The year before, San Antonio voters approved an $850 million municipal bond, the largest bond in city history.

The district’s board began mulling the package in January when trustees approved the formation of a bond advisory committee. The committee comprised three appointed representatives from each single-member district and three representatives appointed by the superintendent. The leaders of the 2016 bond advisory committee, Mario Barrera and Moreno-Herrera, also chaired the 2020 committee.

The chairs and their committee members visited schools in person and took virtual tours to decide which campuses to place on the ballot. Some virtual tours are available on the district’s YouTube website.

With the board’s Monday night vote, SAISD’s bond package will be added to an already lengthy November ballot. Voters will decide on a number of issues on Nov. 3 including school board contests, and State and federal races. San Antonio voters will also cast ballots on propositions that would allocate tax revenue toward funding Pre-K 4 SA, a workforce development and education initiative, and transit.

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly reflect the number of campuses being renovated that have not had full renovations for more than 50 years.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.