Dripping Springs Independent School District is caught up in a slew of problems, mostly of their own making, and local taxpayers are the ones paying for it.
The school district is facing a lawsuit — on top of a recent contentious election, recount, and looming financial crisis.
The controversy began earlier this year when the district announced a $132 million bond proposal, the most expensive in district history. The bond’s projects immediately sparked concern from residents, such as the $34 million to relocate and rebuild an elementary school that was already in “fine” condition according to the district. On top of that, the “fine” school building would then undergo a $4 million renovation into a new administration center, though the district would leave 42,000 square feet of the building unused.
Other projects included new stadium scoreboard infrastructure and millions in un-itemized athletic funds, $3 million to expand the bus barn, and roughly $10 million for a combination of athletic facilities and technology improvements. Several of these items were just given massive amounts of funding from a $92 million bond in 2014.
A coalition of residents spoke out against the proposal, alarmed at the already skyrocketing taxes and debt of the district. Their organization, Citizens for Excellent Education in Dripping Springs (CEEDS), called the bond “full of nonessential, excessive, and wasteful luxury expenditures.”
Even without the bond, the district is in a dangerous financial situation. They currently have more debt than 93 percent of school districts in the entire state, and if the new bond took effect, they’d be even higher on that list — a massive $76,000 of debt per student.
That astronomical cost is paid for by the local residents, who already feel the increasingly heavy price: in just the past year, the average DSISD homeowner saw their school taxes soar by almost $500. The district has no plans to cut taxes, so the annual hike will only continue to increase.
Furthermore, instead of putting out the fires of colossal debt and rampant spending, the district actually wants to add more. According to DSISD Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing, the district will need another bond of roughly $400 million in just three years.
For now, the issue at hand is the $132 million bond. On May 5, the bond got residents’ approval by a slim 37 votes, but CEEDS petitioned for a recount because of misadministration in the election. Among several alleged violations, election records showed that dozens of qualified DSISD voters were assigned incorrect registration cards and could not participate in voting.
A recount was granted, and the bond still narrowly passed, yet CEEDS again observed numerous administrative errors that broke state election law.
The group has now filed a lawsuit against the school district, calling for a new and fair election.
“This election proves again that every vote matters,” said Jerad Najvar, the lawyer representing CEEDS. “Every qualified voter deserves the opportunity to cast a free and fair ballot, and every ballot cast in good order must be counted.”
While the lawsuit awaits decision in Hays County district court, taxpayers must hold the district accountable for the financial crisis they’re already facing. Otherwise, residents’ taxes and debt will continue to soar.