In the final Citizens Bond Advisory Committee meeting Dec. 14, two options were finalized which will ultimately be presented to the school board at the Jan. 9 meeting. The plans indicate the community’s wishes regarding how the bond money is to be allocated.
Over three consecutive meetings (Nov. 16, Dec. 4 and Dec. 14), groups developed eight proposals, then four, then the final two plans. Bond oversight and planning committees are a very common practice among school boards. For the 2018 bond, the district will for the first time implement an oversight committee to follow the implementation and purchase of the bonds to ensure the money is being borrowed and spent according to community expectations and priorities.
Bond money is for infrastructure build—land purchase, equipment such as buses, new construction and renovation. Bond money cannot pay for operating costs—things like teacher salaries and electric bills. School systems do not typically have excessive cash on hand, and must borrow money for large capital improvements.
The 2018 proposed bond package is separate from any rebuilding that must be done for Harvey losses, which are estimated at $95-$100 million, encompassing major damage at Kingwood High School, the Instructional Support Center, the Welcome Center and the agriculture barn on Woodland Hills Drive. No bond money is needed for Harvey items, as district insurance, FEMA and anticipated state relief funds are eventually expected to cover those items.
The committee split into two groups, who proposed bond package options totaling $600 million, the amount Humble ISD could fund over a six-year period without increasing the debt service tax rate. The state of Texas has legislated that school districts cannot sell bonds if the resulting debt will necessitate a debt service tax rate of more than 50 cents per $100 of value. Humble ISD currently is at 35 cents. The appraisal district sets the value, currently at $15.9 billion.
It is the goal of the district to not raise the tax rate. Indeed, at the October trustee meeting, Angela Conrad announced that the board voted to adopt a 2017 tax rate that is unchanged at $1.52 ($1.17 M&O and 0.35 M&S).
School bonds work a lot like home loans, with a basic purpose of allowing the borrower to spend a lot of money right away but pay it back over time. Bonds have to be repaid by taxpayers with interest, and the interest rates are certainly a variable in determining how risky the investment is. Over the last few years, Humble ISD has benefited from low interest rates and has been able to retire between $30 and $35 million in principal per year—in some cases retiring principal early.
The last bond was in 2008 and totaled $245 million. The vast majority of that bond was used to purchase land for new schools and for new school construction. Land was purchased for eight schools, three elementary schools were built and opened, and one middle school was built and will open in August 2018. A police station was constructed, the Community Learning Center (CLC) was expanded, and a building in Humble (Welcome Center) was purchased. Regarding athletics, Turner Stadium was renovated and the YMCA Miracle League field was constructed.
The 2018 bond package is markedly different. It allocates funding for one new elementary school and one new middle school, and calls for complete rebuild of the aging facilities of both Lakeland Elementary as well as Kingwood Middle School. There are several major campus renovations, including a 10-12 classroom addition to Atascocita High to alleviate some of the portable buildings, and additions of multi-purpose rooms at all elementary schools.
Athletics expenditures comprise a much higher dollar value for this bond, including creating a third practice gymnasiums in each high schools, conversion of middle school gym floors to wood, and field turf replacement at all high schools as well as at the Turner baseball/softball complex. Charles Street Stadium renovations are included, as is a CLC gym. A new Ag barn is also proposed to relocate the current “north” barn flooded during Harvey. The “south” Ag barn is at Humble High. An additional transportation center is included to relocate a bus barn to the “north” end of the district. The facility costs $19 million but is projected to save roughly $2.2 million in operating costs per year by not having all buses located at the current Humble hub.
Roughly 100 people served on the bond committee. There were several projects which developed organically as the committee meetings progressed. For example, the initial Ag barn cost estimate did not include the land cost. Soon, the land and construction costs were both included, and the district arranged tours of the Ag facilities for committee members. In the end, the district clarified costs and developed two cost options. Both of the final plans opted for the higher cost option to build out for future growth.
The district tabled projects like High School No. 7 and Elementary School No. 31, stating that those were so far out in the horizon and were not necessary for this bond referendum. Both bond packages also excluded projects deemed not a priority for this bond, including a new district natatorium, a child nutrition center, a pre-K center, a career and technology center and an expanded emergency operations center.
The bond committee will choose two spokespeople who will meet Jan. 4 to formulate the packages for presentation to the school board Jan. 9 at the next trustee meeting.