By Charlie Hill
The Boerne ISD Board of Trustees is asking voters to consider a $99.48MM school bond issue that includes a significant investment in technology, a schedule of facility upgrades to address expanding enrollment, and enhanced security features for all schools in the district. The proposal will go before voters on May 11.
When the 70-member Boerne ISD Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC) was formed in 2012, it was tasked with understanding and solving today’s school district infrastructure needs while laying the foundation for long-range initiatives in this rapidly growing area. The committee, chaired by local banking executive Steve Mack, spent seven months studying the district’s capital needs. Upgrading classroom technology capabilities was a high priority and the proposed upgrades on all nine district campuseswould significantly increase the capacity for rapid, wireless access to the Internet and the growth in online educational resources.
Calling the content of the bond proposal “powerful,” board member and Cordillera Ranch resident Alan Rich said, “I believe we will look back on this vote years from now and be able to say that we made the right decision at the right time.” Board member Susie Allen added, “Each child in the district will be positively impacted by this bond.”
Keeping the Tax Rate Low
“I think it is also important to underscore that, based on analysis we received, we believe the entire list can be financed and accomplished without raising tax rates,” Steve Mack said. The district’s bond advisor (SAMCO Capital Markets) prepared a conservative illustration that showed the district being in a financial position such that a bond at the proposed level could be carried without needing to increase the interest and sinking tax rate. That rate currently stands at $0.254 per $100 valuation, a figure that has been lowered twice by the district since 2009. Primary factors contributing to this have been the district’s prudent management of existing debt – refinancing in recent years to the point of recognizing $41 million in savings – and the steadily growing tax base that supports the district.
As illustrated in the charts, the Boerne ISD’s debt ratios are at the low end of the 11 area districts compared in SAMCO’s analysis, with Boerne ISD having the 2nd lowest debt / total assessed value among the 11 districts.
Furthermore, BISD’s current I&S tax rate of 0.254 per $100 is 24% less than the average rate of the other 10 districts in this sample.
The Improvements and Upgrades
The LRPC reviewed a specially commissioned enrollment forecast produced by Templeton Demographics, which projects an increase of more than 1,000 students in the district within four years. The report goes on to project enrollment growth of 3 to 4 percent annually for the foreseeable future, acknowledging that BISD’s reputation for excellence makes it a “destination district” for families moving to the area. With current enrollment topping 7,000 for the first time this year and in light of the growth projections, the committee recommended additional steps to accommodate the increased number of students on the current nine campuses.
“Our community rightfully prides itself in having an excellent school district,” BISD superintendent David Stelmazewski commented. “But the fact of the matter is that in order to maintain that edge, we must invest in technology and technology training. We are behind, but we can catch up and excel once again as a leader in this area. I think the committee recognizes this and made technology investment a priority accordingly.”
The $14 million technology investment would include an extensive upgrade in computer hardware, communication systems, and mobile devices in classrooms and labs. A high percentage of the district’s current computer inventory – some 3,700 desktop computers, laptops, and other devices – has an average age of eight years of service, putting technology-based instruction at a significant disadvantage.
In addition to the technology upgrades, a new campus for Fabra Elementary School is also part of the bond proposal, which along with upgrades and renovations on other campuses will enable the district to maintain its current nine campuses and still accommodate steady enrollment growth that is forecast for the coming years.
The committee examined a number of options related to facility upgrades and expansion, ultimately determining that the best approach financially and logistically involved constructing a new Fabra Elementary School and adding classroom capacity to accommodate moving sixth grade to the two existing middle school campuses no later than 2015.
The recommendation involving Fabra centered on the age of the existing facility and its related limitations as a modern learning environment. The committee factored in information involving the prospect of identifying available real estate within reasonable proximity of the current campus and the idea that the current facility, with modest renovation, could be repurposed for administrative and alternative school uses.
Connie Sherwood, a Cordillera Ranch resident and volunteer on the LRPC, added, “Sixth graders will be moving to the middle school campuses in a few years. This is going to happen because from the standpoint of curriculum, these children need to be in that middle school environment. Money in the bond accommodates the expansion of the two middle schools. And an added benefit is that the elementary campuses will then have more space to deal with the expanding enrollment.”
A significant portion of the classrooms in the current Fabra Elementary School date back to 1948 and are increasingly burdened with maintenance and energy efficiency issues. Traffic congestion and safety issues for the district’s smallest campus also were factored into the recommendation.
Major upgrades to Curington Elementary School and Boerne Middle School North, two of the district’s older campuses, are part of the bond proposal along with expansion of the Career and Technology Education programs at Boerne High School. Expanding the Career and Technology Education programs will help alleviate overcrowding and scheduling issues faced under the current system of shared facilities on the Boerne Champion High School campus.
An array of security and safety enhancements on all campuses also will be funded with bond proceeds. District officials plan to further secure school entry points, add special “Columbine-style” security locks to all classroom doors, upgrade security cameras in specific areas, and act on other areas of need identified in campus audits with local law enforcement professionals.
The need to expand and update the bus fleet and other school vehicles for the growing district was also addressed in the bond proposal. The committee also recommended setting aside funds for the purchase of land for future school sites.
The LRPC and Board have worked extensively in getting the bond proposal prepared to help advance the objectives of keeping up with the growth needs and continuing to be one of the top school districts in the state. “Now it’s important for the voters to support this measure,” commented Connie Sherwood. “The reputation of the Boerne school district is what causes many families
to decide to move to our community. Those families buy groceries here, buy vehicles here, purchase homes here. The success of our business community is very definitely tied to the success of our school district. It will be impossible to continue to be a premiere school district without funding for the measures that are included in the bond.”
Additional information on the 2013 BISD Bond Proposal can be found at cordilleraranch.com/schools.