Round Rock taxpayers could continue to see taxes rise and school needs go unmet after their school district’s controversial bond passed.
On Tuesday, voters approved a half-billion dollar Round Rock ISD bond by a 65-35 margin. The bond was mired in controversy and special interests since its announcement.
From the outset, local taxpayers raised a variety of concerns about the massive $508 million package: excessive cost estimates, misplaced spending priorities, and a failure to address the real critical needs of the district. On top of that, the bond was placed as a single decision on the ballot, forcing taxpayers into an all-or-nothing decision.
A group of community citizens, organized under Residents for Accountability and Transparency, spoke out against the bond and called for a new fiscally responsible proposal that would more effectively address the true needs of the district. The group also played a part in defeating last year’s school bond, which voters rejected for many of the same reasons.
“This bond isn’t the reasonable and moderate bond we were promised after the 2017 one failed,” said Marshall Sprigg, spokesperson for the citizen group. He also said in late 2017 the district proposed a list of critical needs that only totaled $160-$200 million.
“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,” he said.
In addition to concerns with the bond itself, residents raised questions after special interests began getting heavily involved in promoting the bond.
Round Rock Forward, a PAC supporting the bond, spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to push the proposal over the finish line. The PAC raised almost $100,000 for the effort, with 93 percent of that money coming from local construction businesses.
Even more telling, one of the PAC’s top proponents wrote an open letter on LinkedIn soliciting businesses for donations toward the cause. Clint Harris, a local construction consultant, asked fellow contractors to help pass the bond because “Many of you are vendors of RRISD and would benefit directly from it.”
Harris deleted the letter after taxpayers exposed it on Facebook.
The bond could have costly implications for local residents. Though the district claimed there would be no tax “rate” increase, actual tax bills are expected to continue rising for residents because of the massive debt now on the books.
Sprigg said because of the incredibly bloated price tag, the school district has also lost its financial flexibility to add in future bonds to take care of unanticipated needs or even the current pressing needs left unattended in this proposal. The total bond cost, with interest, could reach $700 million.
“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,” Sprigg said, adding that they could have come back with a reasonable bond that the whole community could support — one that actually addressed their students’ high-priority needs.
Unfortunately, however, that is not what happened.
Now that the district could potentially have a blank check of up to $150 million, it is all the more critical that local taxpayers hold the school board accountable with how they use citizens’ money.