Just over a year after voters rejected their last spending proposal as too extravagant, Allen school district officials are proposing a scaled-back bond package that spends about half as much.
But local property taxpayers—whose school tax bills have gone up 38 percent over the past six years—may not have an appetite for any increases in spending and taxes as they struggle with government-ordered closures due to the Chinese coronavirus.
On Monday, trustees in Allen Independent School District—home of Texas’ first megamillion-dollar football stadium—voted unanimously to place $222 million in new bond debt on the November 2020 ballot.
The district already owes $954 million in bond debt principal and interest (over $43,000 per student), all of which must be repaid by local property taxpayers.
In 2020, Allen ISD will spend $51.8 million paying down debt.
The district says the new bonds will not require a tax rate increase above the current $1.4589 per $100 valuation. But if property values rise, residents’ tax bills will increase. About 28 percent of property taxes collected by the district go to repay debt.
“If approved by voters, the district’s tax rate will not be raised. More than $600 million of new properties, both commercial and residential, are expected to be added to the tax rolls this year, allowing the AISD Board to maintain the tax rate while adding a new bond proposal and paying down the principal on existing bonds.”
Yet even without raising rates, the district has increased residents’ school tax burdens.
Data from the Collin County Appraisal District shows from 2013 to 2019, the average Allen ISD homeowner’s school property tax bill went up 37.8 percent, from $3,501 to $4,826. Trustees lowered the district’s tax rate several times, but not enough to offset skyrocketing property values.
During the same period, student enrollment went up just 7.7 percent, according to Texas Education Agency data.
“It is now in the voters’ hands to decide,” Allen ISD Board President Amy Gnadt said after Monday’s bond approval.
In May 2019, Allen voters rejected a $422 million bond proposal—which was larger than Allen ISD’s previous two bond packages combined and didn’t add a single new school.
The current $222 million proposal doesn’t add any new schools, either. Most of the money is allocated to renovating existing facilities.
The bond proposal is split into four separate propositions:
- Proposition A ($189.3 million): School Facilities and Capital Projects
- Proposition B ($7.2 million): Athletic Updates
- Proposition C ($515,000): Tennis Court Remediation
- Proposition D ($25 million): Technology Updates
(Because the tennis courts are considered a recreational facility, a new state law requires them to be in a separate proposition.)
The board adopted recommendations from the Project Kids citizens’ bond committee, which was appointed by the board in February. The spending package is expected to meet the district’s needs for the next three to four years.
The district’s request for more debt comes amid economic distress caused by months of government-ordered shutdowns due to the coronavirus, including school campus closures.
Superintendent Robin Bullock decided to keep district schools closed to in-person learning for at least the first three weeks of the 2020-21 school year, limiting students to online-only, virtual learning. Kids haven’t been in classrooms since March.
“As a school district, we recognize the current environment regarding COVID-19. In our Allen ISD community, we understand the importance of focusing on the future of our schools,” Bullock said in a statement, adding approved bonds would not be sold right away, but “when necessary.”
“The board can consider the economic outlook, market rates, and project timelines before selling any bonds,” she said.
Along with the four bond propositions, one contested school board trustee position is also on the November ballot. Polly Montgomery and Sathyanarayana Sastry are vying for the seat being vacated by Louise Master. Two other board members running for re-election, Kevin Cameron and Vatsa Ramanathan, are unopposed. The board elections were postponed from May because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The early voting period, extended due to coronavirus concerns, begins on October 13. Election Day is November 3.