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DISD calls bond election for Nov. 5

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

The Denton school board has called a $312 million bond election for Nov. 5.

On Tuesday, the board voted 7-0 to call an election in which voters will be asked to vote whether to fund projects, including the construction of a fourth high school along the U.S. Highway 380 Corridor; a 23rd and 24th elementary school; an eighth middle school; a ninth-grade addition at Guyer High School; renovations at 17 campuses; energy conservation improvements; and land acquisition.

The 2013 Bond Citizens Advisory Committee called for the new high school and one elementary school to open in 2015 and for the other elementary school to open in 2019.

Estimated costs for the projects total more than $329.56 million, and district officials have said that if voters approve the referendum in November, about $17.6 million in savings obtained from the 2007 bond projects will be applied toward the proposed 2013 bond referendum.

District officials have said the projects in the proposed 2013 bond referendum will accommodate Denton’s increasing student enrollment population.

“The kids are coming, and it’s our job, it’s our duty to have the facilities so that they can have the best educational experience possible,” said Charles Stafford, board president. “Our high schools are full. In fact they’re more than full. They’re past their optimal enrollment and they’re going to be a whole lot more crowded by the time we could get a new school built.”

Over the next five to six years, the school district’s enrollment is projected to increase by between 4,700 and 5,700 students. Officials have said the district has gained more than 10,000 students in the last 10 years.

Mike Woods, a co-chairman of the bond advisory committee, said details for the proposed bond referendum will be shared with prospective voters.

Over the next several months, district officials and the more than 30-member advisory committee — made up of residents who live within the district’s boundaries — will be sharing details with prospective voters, PTA, community, service, civic and volunteer groups and the business community.

On Tuesday, prior to the board’s vote on the election, trustees viewed a short video about the proposal. That video will also be shared with prospective voters, Woods said.

According to district officials, the bond referendum would have a minimal impact on the tax rate.

The district could choose to increase the rate used to pay off its bonded indebtedness by 1 cent per $100 valuation.

The district’s current tax rate for bond debt is 49 cents per $100 valuation, and the maximum it can set is 50 cents.

If the referendum passes, district officials have said homeowners with a $150,000 home would see an estimated annual increase of $15 in their tax bill; owners of a $100,000 home would see a $10 increase; and people with a $300,000 home would pay $30 more in taxes annually.

Taxes for residents older than 65 with an “over 65 homestead exemption” on their homes are frozen at the rate the homeowners paid the year they qualified for the exemption, according to district officials.

According to a district question-and-answer document about the bond referendum, residents within the school district closed on 893 homes in 2012, and construction began for 990 new homes.

The district includes more than 2,300 developed vacant lots, more than 13,750 future lots and “thousands of lots in developments that are currently being planned.”

The school district’s boundaries cover 180 square miles and include about 15 cities, towns and major developments.

Denton Superintendent Jamie Wilson said what will make the bond work is development growth.

“As the growth comes, the schools come,” he said. “As the growth comes slower, the schools come slower.”

Stafford added that “for the foreseeable future,” new development growth will fund facilities construction, staffing and expenses needed to operate the facilities the district anticipates bringing online.

He said he fears that there will come a time where “growth won’t pay for itself” because of high construction costs but that’s probably five to 10 years out.

According to the Texas Secretary of State website, the last day to order a general election for Nov. 5 is Aug. 26.

Early voting begins on Oct. 21.

Individuals looking to cast a ballot in the Nov. 5 election who are not yet registered to vote must do so by Oct. 7.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.