Round Rock citizens are facing a critical school bond decision in November—and special interests are working hard to sway them. 

Round Rock ISD has put forward a $508 million bond package to local voters, calling for improvements and new construction in the school district. The new bond comes after voters rejected a $572 million package with many of the same items last year.

Local parents and taxpayers have raised concerns over the new bond, pointing to $100 million in inflated costs and questionable spending priorities, such as a $16 million indoor practice pool. A group of citizens, Residents for Accountability & Transparency, even created a website detailing the financial mishandling of the bond proposal and the true cost it would pose to taxpayers.

On the other side, special interests are spending big to sway voters. They’ve formed a pro-bond political action committee, the Round Rock Forward PAC, and raised almost $48,000 to use promoting the bond.

A look into the PAC’s donations reveals why they’re working so hard to push the half-billion-dollar package.

More than 91 percent of the PAC’s money comes from local construction, architectural, and engineering businesses. One of the PAC’s supporters, Clint Harris, even wrote an open letter on LinkedIn asking local vendors to donate to the PAC because the bond will benefit them financially.

“During the past year we had a $578M bond package fail and we cannot afford another failure,” began Harris. “As one of the supporters I have been tasked with getting the message out to our engineering community in hopes of garnering supporting this bond package. Some of you are vendors of RRISD and would benefit directly from it.” (emphasis added)

That doesn’t exactly seem motivated “for the kids.”

Harris concluded with a call to action for local construction businesses. “We desperately need to raise $80,000 in the next two weeks to get the message out so it does not fail again. Please donate today.”

The letter has been deleted from LinkedIn, but screenshots of it still appear on a local citizen activist Facebook page.

Last year’s bond failed for many of the same reasons citizens are concerned now: the bond package prioritizes wants over needs and includes questionably high-cost estimates.

Still, the school board’s new bond replicates many of the last bond’s issues and, this time, they’ve made the bond a single proposition on the ballot, forcing taxpayers into an all-or-nothing decision.

Local taxpayers have taken notice of the special interests and excessive costs in the bond. Marshall Sprigg, spokesperson for Residents for Accountability & Transparency, pointed out that the current bond is two and a half to three times the $160-$200 million of critical needs the district proposed in December 2017.

“This bond isn’t the reasonable and moderate bond we were promised after the 2017 one failed,” said Sprigg. “The district has given bloated cost estimates and has designed this bond to generate a huge surplus, which can then be spent at the discretion of the trustees.”

With special interests getting heavily involved in trying to pass the bond, Sprigg said the motivation for this project has become even more clear.

“We don’t need to give a blank check to Round Rock ISD just because special interests want to get their hands on more taxpayer money,” he said. “We could come back with a reasonable bond that all of us can support, that will help the kids with the things that are high priority.”

Early voting begins October 22 and runs through November 2, with Election Day on November 6.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.

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