Monday, January 25, 2016

What's Up with the RISD Bond?

The RISD is facing a February deadline to put a bond proposition on the ballot in the May election. What's the sticking point in finalizing what will go into the bond package?

It doesn't appear to be the size of the bond package or the need to raise the tax rate. The size is projected to be $417 million, with a likely tax rate increase of eight cents per $100 dollars. Most of the public commotion is not over these numbers, but seems to be over what's in the bond package, not how much it costs.

It doesn't appear to be those multipurpose facilities (aka, indoor practice fields). The scope of those has been cut down from $80 million to $60 million ($15 million each for four high schools). Now that the sticker shock has been addressed and the price is more in line with the dozens other such facilities already built by other school districts in north Texas, this issue seems to have moved to the back burner. Whether it's still simmering away, ready to boil over at the ballot box, is an open question.

It doesn't appear to be how to break up the bond items into separate bond propositions for voters to decide on. The Community Bond Advisory Committee recommends a single proposition. All or nothing. Not what I would recommend. There are too many angles to attack this bond proposition to feel comfortable that an all-or-nothing proposition will pass. But it's likely the school board will go along.

So, what's the sticking point? It's what to do about enrollment growth, especially in Lake Highlands.

Specifically, enrollment growth in the elementary schools. Expansions at Lake Highlands High School as well as Richardson High School are not controversial.

The RISD administration is recommending adding classrooms at Aikin, Northwood Hills, Stults, Mark Twain and White Rock elementary schools. It's recommending expanding magnet eligibility for the Lake Highlands area in an attempt to voluntarily reduce demand at neighborhood schools there. It's exploring the possibility of shifting pre-K and kindergarten to a central program in Lake Highlands. It's exploring land acquisition for a possible new school later.

Some stakeholders are opposed to expanding White Rock Elementary, which would lead to enrollment above 1,000 students. Some are opposed to redrawing attendance boundaries, which would lead to children changing schools and could affect house prices. Some are opposed to creating centralized kindergarten. These aren't separate camps. Champions of any options are hard to find, although there are some who favor centralizing 5th and 6th grades, but RISD administration seems opposed to entertaining that solution.

Regardless, some combination of these options is likely to occur, just as various combinations have occurred in the past. RISD has built new schools, expanded existing schools, shifted attendance boundaries, shifted grade levels. Each option has faced adamant opposition then as now. As a community we have worked through the drawbacks of change and emerged as a still strong school district. I hope we will again this time. To that end, I expect to support the bond proposition.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

This week the RISD school board took steps to negotiate to purchase land in Lake Highlands for construction of a new elementary school. It's looked to me for a while that this was going to be the eventual outcome. The surprise to me is that the RISD sped up the timetable, saving the need to add classrooms to White Rock Elementary. Paradoxically, by increasing the size of the bond, the RISD just may make it more likely to pass. I didn't see that when this whole process started.