Property taxpayers in Arlington Independent School District have taken a beating in the past several years, thanks to the district’s runaway spending and debt. Despite declining enrollment, Arlington’s school board wants voters to approve even more taxpayer-backed debt—a lot more.
Arlington ISD trustees unanimously agreed in August to put a $966 million bond proposal on the November ballot—larger than the district’s last two bonds combined.
The district already owes over $1.1 billion in bond debt principal and interest, all of which must be repaid with property taxes. Just five years ago, voters approved a $663 million bond. With that money spent, the district is now asking for nearly a billion dollars more to spend in the next five years.
The district’s big spending has had a dramatic impact on local taxpayers. The average Arlington ISD homeowner’s school property tax bill increased 42 percent over the past five years, from $1,490 to $2,166. Per-student taxes and spending also increased each of those years, while student enrollment fell 7.5 percent during that same period.
School officials say this new bond package will not increase the district’s debt service (I&S) tax rate, unchanged from last year at about $0.33 per $100 of property valuation; what they don’t say is that it will increase residents’ tax bills.
Even though the state legislature forced school districts to lower their operating (M&O) tax rates this year—in Arlington ISD, by 7 cents to $0.97—the rate reduction is not enough to offset skyrocketing property values. At the district’s total 2019 tax rate of $1.2987, the average AISD homeowner’s school property tax bill is set to increase another 5.9 percent, to $2,242.
Instead of giving Arlington taxpayers a needed break by lowering the district’s debt tax rate to offset rising values, trustees calculated the amount they could borrow while keeping the current rate, then decided how to spend the money on a new list of “needs” over the next five years.
“Building improvements are planned for all schools,” said Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, Arlington ISD superintendent. “The majority of the proposed bond program is for renovations and rebuilding facilities to address significant condition needs.”
The all-or-nothing bond proposition does not fund any new schools but includes:
- Rebuilding four existing schools
- Renovations and furnishings for full-day pre-K classrooms
- Junior high and high school fine arts/dual language academies
- New playgrounds and shade structures for all elementary schools
- Addition to the district’s career and technical center
- Renovation of existing field to be the third varsity competition field in the district
- Upgrades to athletics facilities and fine arts spaces
- New fine arts instruments and uniforms
- New school buses
- Safety and security upgrades
A steering committee formed by the AISD board to make spending recommendations came up with the list of projects for the nearly billion-dollar bond plan, which is larger than the district’s last two bonds combined ($663 million in 2014 and $197.5 million in 2009).
In addition to Arlington’s new school debt proposal, voters across Tarrant County will also decide on an $825 million bond package for the Tarrant County College District.
Early voting in the November 5 election runs from October 21 through November 1.