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A small North Texas school district expected to more than double in size in the next decade is asking voters to authorize a quarter billion dollars in new property tax-supported debt to prepare for the growth.

Princeton Independent School District’s board of trustees unanimously approved placing a $237.4 million debt proposition on the May ballot. The money would be spent on new schools to accommodate a projected 137 percent increase in student enrollment over the next 10 years, from 4,888 to over 11,500 students—well above the district’s growth projections from just a few years ago.

The debt package recommended by the district’s “long range planning committee” would fund construction of two elementary schools, one middle school, and a 9th-10th grade center, as well as property for school sites.

The district already owes $340 million in debt principal and interest—nearly $70,000 per student. Trustees’ 2019 bond proposal would add $35,000 in new debt per new student. All of the debt is secured by local property taxes, though the district asserts in its bond brochure that the state currently covers about 40 percent of Princeton ISD’s bond payments.

District officials say the new debt would increase the school property tax rate by up to 5 cents, to a total of $1.67 per $100 of assessed taxable value—the maximum rate allowed by state law.

Residents are already dealing with rising property taxes that have outpaced enrollment growth. From 2013 to 2016, the average Princeton ISD homeowner’s school property tax bill increased 37 percent, from $1,319 to $1,818—the result of district rate hikes on top of rising property values. Enrollment during that same period grew 21 percent.

As property values, district debt, and tax rates continue to climb, homeowners’ school tax bills will do the same. Yet despite the big impact local debt elections have on taxpayers, turnout is small.

Two years ago, voters passed a $96.3 million debt package that funded construction of two elementary schools and expansion of a middle school, along with renovations and land purchases. Only 6.5 percent of Princeton ISD voters participated in that election.

In May 2014, voters approved $49.5 million in debt to pay for expansion of Princeton High School and construction of a junior high school; just 8.4 percent of voters participated.

With more debt on the ballot than in the last two elections combined, will more Princeton ISD voters turn out for this high-stakes election?

Early voting is underway now through April 30. Election Day is May 4.

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