Only three and a half years after voters approved a $487 million bond, the Conroe Independent School District is asking taxpayers for even more. The board of trustees voted 6-1 at a recent meeting to place an $807 million bond on the ballot for the upcoming May 4 election.
The bond package was put together by a 27-member Facilities Planning Committee. While the committee included several Democrats, it did not include any Tea Party leaders or Republican Party officials. The committee proposed an $827 million bond, which was trimmed down to $807 million by the school board.
CISD says the bond will increase the district’s tax rate of $1.28 per $100 valuation by one cent in the first year and three cents over the life of the bond. CISD is currently the largest portion of homeowners’ property tax bill, far exceeding the percentage the average taxpayer yields to Montgomery County, The Woodlands Township, or City of Conroe.
According to the most recent data from the Texas Comptroller’s website, CISD already has $1,136,590,000 in debt that must be repaid with property taxes. The $1.1 billion adds up to approximately $19,000 of debt per student, one of the highest debt per student rates in the state among school districts of similar size.
District officials argue that the bond is needed because of the rapid growth Montgomery County is experiencing, much of which is centered in CISD. The number of students in CISD has grown by over 15,000 in the last decade, and is projected to grow by 6,968 more in the next five years. Many schools are currently overcrowded.
Out of the total $807 million package, approximately $192 million is budgeted towards constructing new schools. Another $270 million is bundled into a category called “Growth and Sustainability” which includes the construction of new classrooms and renovations of existing facilities. Approximately $24.6 million will go towards “Safety and Security.”
However, it’s not the need for new schools that most conservatives disagree with. In addition to funding the construction of new schools, an extensive “want” list of various projects has been dumped into the bond as well. Only a relatively small percentage of the bond will actually go to build new schools or add classrooms.
The district intends to go further into debt to fund a laundry list of minor projects such as repainting and restriping parking lots, replacing signage, replacing curtains, and new projectors.
CISD’s website lists a $36 million category simply labeled “Technology,” over $5 million for HVAC replacements, $23 million for turf conversions, and $2.5 million for “energy efficiency and conservation projects.” $39 million of the bond will go towards “contingency.”
During the meeting when the board voted to place the bond on the ballot, Trustee Dale Inman offered a much smaller alternative bond proposal that only included items from the Facilities Planning Committee list that were in the growth and safety categories. Inman’s proposal died for lack of a second. The board then voted 6-1 to place the $807 million package on the ballot, with Inman abstaining.
Approval of the bond is ultimately in the hands of the voters, who will head to the polls on May 4 to determine the fate of the proposal.