Last week, Katy ISD broke ground on their hotly contested 12,000-seat stadium. The facility, which is tentatively being called ‘Second Stadium,’ was included in the district’s massive $748 million bond passed in 2014 – the most expensive bond package in the KISD history.
Second Stadium will be located adjacent to KISD’s Rhodes Stadium. Although taxpayers were originally given a price tag of $58 million, before one brick has been laid, its now projected to cost over $61 million. Once complete, the stadium will pass Allen ISD to become the most expensive high school stadium in the nation.
Included in this massive shrine to government waste and opulence will be a two-story press box, a 12,000 sq. ft. field house, and a completely empty second floor with a purpose “to be determined.” Many districts rarely pass over an opportunity to borrow from taxpayers first, and answer questions later.
By comparison, neighboring Houston ISD has a population of 210,000 students across 283 campuses, but only has three active stadiums. KISD’s enrollment is only one-third as large, with 70,000 students across 60 campuses, but will now have two stadiums that are larger than HISD’s.
The same deceptive tactics used to cloak comments to the Board of Trustees was also used in the passage of this bond. As we covered extensively, lumping together wants and needs is a common tactic used to hold taxpayers hostage.
Prior to the massive $748 million debt proposal passing, KISD asked taxpayers to first approve a $99 million debt deal. After voters rejected it, school officials came back with the larger proposal. This time around, the stadium was buried under the “needs” of the children, forcing Katy residents to make an all-or-nothing decision.
Of the initial failure, activist and current Katy ISD School Board candidate George Scott said, “…this was simply the worst structured bond I have seen in my entire professional career.” Scott is now running to be a community voice on the school board, a body he has labeled “institutionally arrogant.”
Katy ISD Superintendent touted the massive stadium saying, “We’re looking at adding about $500,000 a year at least in revenue because of this facility.”
Implied in his comments is the idea that revenue increases will somehow offset the new massive debt payments levied on property owners. The reality is quite the opposite.
There is no guarantee that revenue generated by the facility will be used to repay bonds, as school debt is repaid with the I&S portion of property taxes which are held in a fund separate from the districts operating budget. It’s unclear at this point what the operating revenue from the stadium will be used for.
This dynamic explains in part why some districts have borrowed excessively. Since school bonds are separate revenue streams that cannot be recaptured by the state’s Robin Hood funding system, many districts issue excessive debt to essentially supplement their operating budgets.
This also explains why some districts include items in bond proposals that could otherwise be paid for in their operating budgets.
Legislators seeking a case study for debt reform have no greater example than KISD. Requiring separate, line item voting for major capital projects is absolutely critical to increasing ballot transparency for taxpayers already saddled with record local debt and ever-increasing property taxes.
Not only should districts be required to use separate ballot propositions, they should also disclose the principal and interest expanse of new debt on the ballot, in addition to the impact it will have on property taxes if passed.
As seen with Houston ISD and other districts around the state, project costs tend to balloon following voter approval. Ultimately, local residents of KISD need to hold their officials accountable by becoming actively involved in district governance.