More companies are pouring cash into convincing voters to increase their own debt load in a North Texas school district’s bond election that is already underway.

As previously reported by Texas Scorecard, BTC, a construction company whose sole source of income appears to be taxpayer-funded projects, donated $5,000 to the pro-bond “Vote For Keller ISD” political action committee. The PAC supports the $315 million bond for Keller Independent School District. If passed, hundreds of millions of debt would be added to the $1 billion debt burden (principal plus interest) already on the district’s taxpayers. For the student enrollment of 2017-2018, that would be close to $40,000 of debt per student.

The company has previously done work for the district and would likely stand to gain financially should the bond pass.

Now, according to the PAC’s most recent filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, five more companies that would likely gain from the bond’s passage have thrown money into the election:

  • Pogue Construction, located in McKinney, donated $5,000.
  • Hellas Construction Co., located in Austin, donated $2,500.
  • Peloton Land Solutions, located in Fort Worth, donated $2,000.
  • Reed, Wells, Benson & Company, located in Dallas, donated $2,000.
  • North Texas Contracting, located in Keller, made an in-kind donation of $5,898.35 worth of signs to promote the bond.

North Texas Contracting’s vice president and co-owner Zachary Fusilier also made a cash donation of $5,000 and an in-kind donation of signs worth $780 to support the bond.

This is not the first time Pogue Construction has donated against taxpayers’ interests. The company has previously contributed to the “Vote YES For Keller Schools” PAC to support the 2014 bond election.

The 2019 bond proposition was unanimously approved earlier this year by Keller ISD board members. The bond is just the first part of Keller ISD’s “Long-Range Facility Plan,” a 10-year proposal outlining 66 projects totaling more than $1 billion, for the purpose of “bringing Keller ISD’s facilities in alignment with the District’s core values.”

Almost half the 2019 bond spending would go towards replacing four elementary school buildings with newer ones that would accommodate roughly the same class size as the current facilities. Over $43 million would go to renovations and additions to existing schools, and over $70 million would go to “indoor extra-curricular facilities at high schools” and a new “science center.”

Should the bond pass, the companies and those connected to them who have poured money into supporting the bond would stand to gain financially from contracts related to the construction involved.

The PAC claims the new debt won’t increase the tax rate, but that is misleading and has no relation to homeowners’ property tax bills. Yearly rate-to-rate comparisons are meaningless because if the tax rate isn’t lowered enough to offset increases in property values, homeowners’ tax bills will increase. Data from the Tarrant Appraisal District shows that from 2013 to 2018, the average district homeowner’s school property tax bill increased over 37 percent, from $2,932 to $4,029.

For 2019, the average Keller ISD homeowner’s school property tax bill went up just 0.42 percent. That’s because schools in Texas were forced by the Texas Legislature this year to compress their property tax rates, thanks to $5.1 billion dedicated to “property tax relief.” Due to rising appraisal values, the 2019 rate reduction did not result in a lower tax bill for every property owner; rather, tax bills simply did not increase as much as they otherwise would have if lawmakers had failed to act. Local school districts had the option of choosing to lower their property tax rates even further to offset rising values by adopting their “effective” property tax rate—also called the “no-new-revenue” rate.

The more debt local governments like school districts take on, the higher residents’ tax bills must be, and elected officials will have less flexibility to lower homeowners’ tax bills.

Early voting is underway through November 1. Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


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