Monday, December 7, 2015

RISD 2016 Bond Tour: Three Takeaways

The Richardson school district (RISD) is conducting a "listening tour" to get community feedback on a proposed 2016 bond package. Meetings were held last week at three high schools and a fourth meeting, at Richardson High School, is scheduled for December 8. The Wheel covered the first meeting at Pearce High School in an earlier post. Here are my additional takeaways after the first three meetings.

  1. Those multipurpose facilities (aka indoor practice fields for athletics, band, etc.) are surprisingly popular, not just at Pearce, but at Lake Highlands and Berkner as well.

    Oh, there will be objections from some neighbors when they realize they will be able to see the big new facilities from their own houses. And there are questions about why they cost so much -- $20 million each, versus a reported $5 million for a facility at Highland Park ISD. Apples and oranges? Confident estimate or a padded, worst-case scenario? Dunno. The RISD needs to do a better job of publishing comparisons of features and cost between what's proposed for the RISD versus the other 50 or so facilities in north Texas.

    But overall, the people who bothered to come out and speak to this issue were not just open to the idea of building indoor practice fields but were almost passionate about the perceived need. So, I surrender. I began this process assuming the multipurpose practice fields had little chance of making the board's final cut of what will go to the voters and even less chance of winning voter approval. Now, I believe they should at least be on the ballot as a separate line item for the voters to decide themselves. I won't be surprised if the voters approve them.

  2. The bond is woefully lacking in capacity expansion for enrollment growth. There is over $400 million proposed in this bond, but only 45 or so new classrooms will be constructed from all that money.

    To be fair, district administrators say a new outside study of projected enrollment growth is due in January, in time to adjust the bond package if the study shows a need for more new construction. But if you just look at historical trend lines, it's a safe bet that the study will conclude that enrollment growth in some areas will require more classrooms than what the bond already supports. Come January, the school board will likely be faced with the need to add more money to the bond for additional classroom construction. If they ignore that need they risk people voting against the whole bond package in retaliation. If they address the need they either blow up the total size of the bond package or have to cut elsewhere. Either way, some will accuse the district of "bait and switch" and vote "no".

    Sadly, it's too late to redesign the proposed bond package presented in these listening tours. We'll just have to wait for January and then deal with the angst created by whatever changes are needed.

  3. I originally expected the school board to insist that the bond proposal be whittled down to keep within the $235 million cap that can be carried without needing a tax rate increase. I no longer expect that. In none of the meetings did anyone suggest that the $215 million in maintenance and $59 million in new construction contained fat that could be trimmed to get the whole slimmed down to $235 million. And that doesn't even begin to add in all the enrichment options proposed. So I now believe that it's inevitable that voters are going to be asked to approve a tax rate increase. The only question is how big.

    If all of the bond items are placed in a single ballot proposition, the RISD risks giving the voters sticker shock. If that happened and voters rejected everything, it would be a disaster. On the other hand, even if the bond passes, but it contains too much that voters consider unneeded luxuries, that is, if voters feel they need to hold their noses to vote "yes", that would be unfortunate. The only way out of this bind is to break up the bond into several propositions and allow voters themselves to decide just how much of a tax rate increase they can stomach, and for what. I'm not wedded to any particular breakout, but for the sake of discussion, I could see three propositions: one for maintenance, one for new construction, and one for enrichment items; or maybe four, with a completely separate proposition just for the multipurpose facilities. I could see resistance to this idea out of fear that, say, the enrichment items wouldn't pass, but if they can't pass on their own, maybe we just shouldn't have them.


Mark Steger said...

From RISD's "School Times":

Elementary Enrollment Growth
Staff and trustees discussed strategies to address elementary enrollment growth. RISD has constructed 59 elementary classrooms at 10 schools since 2012 to create capacity for additional students. Construction will be completed on six additional classrooms at an eleventh school (Prairie Creek) in time for the 2016-17 school year.
Despite the recent construction of additional classrooms, some elementary schools are operating close to or at capacity and are overflowing students in some grade levels to other schools that have space. RISD anticipates receiving an updated demographic report in January that will include projected enrollment at schools and districtwide into the next decade.
Trustees and staff discussed potential options if the updated report indicates the need to consider longer-term solutions such as construction of additional classrooms at a school, redrawing attendance boundaries and/or construction of a new school.
If construction is needed, the source of funding could potentially be included in the 2016 bond or paid for through one-time use of operating funds.
One strategy RISD could employ to address elementary enrollment growth in the 2016 bond involves including a placeholder dollar amount dedicated to address the issue. The strategy would allow RISD and stakeholders the flexibility and time to address growth as needed through the five year bond period.
The Board also heard strategies to address current elementary enrollment growth for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year, including potential expansion of eligibility for all Lake Highlands areas to apply to attend any elementary magnet school; enhancement of magnet offerings at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet (the elementary magnet school that has traditionally served Lake Highlands); studying the possible relocation of central programs to provide more comprehensive services and create classroom capacity at specific schools; redrawing attendance boundaries; continuing to utilize overflow as a strategy on a school-by-school basis in grade levels that reach the state-mandated 22 student cap in each K-4 section; and/or temporarily exceeding the 22 student cap on a school-by school basis to reduce student overflow.
More specific long-term options will be discussed by trustees, including potential items for inclusion in the bond, once the updated demographic report is available in January.

Mark Steger said...

From RISD's "School Times":

Multipurpose Facilities (MPFs)
Trustees received comparison information about indoor facilities that have already been constructed in several other districts. The data includes what other districts paid in base cost, an inflation index and site/project development fees to arrive at an estimated cost for what a similarly-sized and equipped facility would cost RISD to build in 2017. Indoor facilities in other districts vary substantially in size, building materials, code requirements and features like field length, storage space, weight rooms, classrooms and office space. See MPF comparison information (
Staff and trustees discussed possible ways to reduce the cost of potential MPFs by reducing the scope of the proposed projects.