San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 29th, 2008
Hays CISD calls bond vote

Editor at Large

BUDA – Most of America views a housing slow down as bad news. For Hays CISD officials, it’s something of a temporary relief.

The key word here is “temporary.” School officials anticipate a short slow down only slightly restricting growth in the Buda and Kyle areas the district encompasses.

That in view, the Hays CISD Board of Trustees voted, 6-0, Monday to place an $86.7 million bond issue on the May ballot, mostly to fund two elementary schools and a middle school that would open in 2010. The bond would call for no tax-rate increase.

From their discussion Monday night, fear of recession is on the trustees’ minds because bond supporters are certain to meet resistance on that account. At the same time, trustees can’t spot a scenario in which the need for new schools won’t arise.

Though the local housing market isn’t growing at the torrid pace of recent years, most available data and testimony indicate that it’s relatively stable compared with the national picture. Hays CISD officials still expect an increase of 1,100 students in the next year and continued growth in subsequent years.

“There’s a lot of concern about the economy,” Trustees President Chip DuPont said. “But what we’re seeing here is that instead of 12-percent growth, we’re growing 10 percent, and if we slow down 20 percent, we’re still growing eight percent.”

Hays CISD Superintendent Kirk London conceded that the times are less than perfect for requesting a school bond. However, he argued that the cost of losing the bond could ultimately be higher for taxpayers when factoring in the price of portables and inflated construction costs the later such expenditures are deferred.

Trustee Mark Jones raised the economic concern during the board’s discussion, suggesting that voters will have to be assured the bond would not constitute a hardship during relatively tough times.

“All the indications I’m seeing is that this is a temporary slow down and it’s going to pick up again in six months or a year,” London said. “… The (growth impact committee) felt that there was no reason not to present it to the public.”

London has repeatedly said at public meetings that it’s better for the school district to grow at its present rate of 1,100 students this year than the 1,500 he sometimes fears. School officials have held their breath for years hoping growth surges wouldn’t stress the district’s capacity.

Slower growth means fewer students go to class in portable buildings as the school district struggles to keep pace with classroom demand. But the key word here is “growth,” followed closely by “slower.”

As the recession mania grips the national media with horrid tales of Americans losing billions in home equity, the new home market is only slightly abated within Hays CISD. The school district anticipates 1,331 housing starts in 2008 and 8.5 percent student growth next year, up past 14,000 total.

It’s not growth like the district has faced in recent years. It’s not 13.3 percent growth like the leap from 10,500 students to 11,900 from Oct. 2005 to Oct. 2006. It’s not 9.7 percent growth like the increase from 11,900 students to 13,000 students from Oct. 2006 to Oct. 2007. But it’s growth, and it’s still faster than the five-percent growth London low-balled to a skeptical community when he arrived in 2004.

And even if no one were to move into or out of the school district, school officials say the prevalence of young families with children approaching school age virtually guarantees annual growth approaching five percent.

“Even if no new people moved into the district, we’d still grow something like four percent per year because of all the young families with young children who will be starting school,” DuPont said.

The bond would pay for two elementaries at a combined cost of $38.2 million, plus a middle school for $30.8 million. The remaining $17 million would fund district-wide improvements. Plans now call for the elementary schools to open in the Buda area, one on the west and one on the east. The middle school would go in the vicinity of Hemphill Elementary in the district’s southeastern region.

No citizens complained about the bond issue at a public hearing during Monday’s meeting. Indeed, no one spoke about the bond issue either way.

However, the trustees heard from five citizens about proposed elementary school attendance zones, including two who opposed the changes.

The board voted, 6-0, to approve the changes to accommodate two elementaries, Blanco Vista and Camino Real, which will open in the fall. Trustee Melissa Espinoza was absent from both votes.

The Growth Impact Committee (GIC) recommended zones by which Camino Real will offload a substantial portion of the school district’s northwest territory from Tom Green Elementary. Blanco Vista will take the school district’s southwestern portion, removing that burden from Tobias Elementary.

Parents opposing the change protested that students who live within walking distance of their present schools shouldn’t be moved to new schools that would require bus trips. However, London said the school district’s policy is to allow students to remain in their present schools if they wish, provided they can provide their own transportation. He added that if staying put allows a student to walk to school, then transportation isn’t an issue.

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