Early voting begins; voters to decide on AISD bonds

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Early voting for the Nov. 3 election began Oct. 19 and remains available to voters through Oct. 30. Seven state-wide propositions occupy the ballot but the likely primary interest locally will be the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) bond issue. The building program contemplated by the bond package anticipates total spending of $285 million. Voters will be asked to approve $245 million in bonds with the district funding the balance with $28 million from the current operating budget and $12.6 million from previously authorized bonds.

The bond program will fund four new elementary schools as well as land for a fifth. Campus locations in Shadow Creek Ranch and the new Pomona development have been confirmed; other locations have yet to be announced. Costs for the elementary schools range from $24.5 million to $31.2 million. Additional land is projected at $2.3 million. A new Junior High will be constructed in Shadow Creek Ranch at a cost of $42.2 million and land for another is included at $3.3 million. Land for a fourth High School is included at a cost of $10.5 million. Other expenditures of note include a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center in Manvel at a cost of $45.3 million. The structure will replace the old Manvel JH which will be demolished and replaced with a new 135,000 square foot structure accommodating 800 students in various programs as driven by student interests and the job market. Upgrades to the Alvin HS auditorium and stadium total nearly $19 million. A new transportation center at $8.1 million will relieve the current facility that is over capacity and will provide long-term cost savings in fuel and maintenance by reducing bus transit times. And a new district stadium will require $41.4 million. The funds necessary for the stadium land acquisition were provided for in the previous bond issue. The stadium is contemplated for 10,000 seats and will be constructed of a masonry façade covering a concrete, steel, and aluminum structure. It will feature a two-story press box, a field house with community room, and a state of the art scoreboard and sound system. The district’s Board of Trustees recently approved the acquisition of 70 acres in the southern portion of the Meridiana development along SH 288 to house the new sports venue.

AISD experienced an influx of over 1500 new students this year. It is expecting a five year growth at over 6000 students. By the year 2020 enrollment is projected at more than 28,000 and by 2025 over 35,000. According to statistics released by AISD, 10 of the 15 elementary schools in service at the beginning of the school year are over capacity. It is predicted that elementary school campuses alone will add some 500 students each year for the foreseeable future. Temporary and flex buildings are being used at many campuses to accommodate the excess capacity and some campuses have resorted to using rooms designed for other purposes as classrooms. Overcrowded conditions also stress ancillary school services such as busing, cafeterias, and libraries. Typical elementary school campuses in AISD are designed to accommodate 800 students. Duke Elementary on CR 59 is serving more than 1000 students in its second year of operation. Don Jeter Elementary at the intersection of CR 48 and CR 58 is the next most populated elementary campus at just under 1000 students. All west side schools are experiencing similar facility pressures. Meridiana Elementary will provide some relief next school year as it is expecting completion this coming summer.

Similar situations exist at secondary campuses. AISD currently operates 6 junior high schools and 2 high schools. This school year saw the opening of the new Manvel Junior High which provides relief to Rodeo Palms JH and Nolan Ryan JH, both serving the west side. The current junior high design used by AISD accommodates 1000 students. Nolan Ryan last school year saw their enrollment numbers at 1239 students, more than 23% over capacity. Just as the case with elementary campuses, stress on ancillary services is present as well. Two high schools serve the district presently. Alvin HS is expected to be at capacity this school year at roughly 2600 students. Manvel HS is projected to see enrollment at 3092, which is over 400 students above the designed capacity of 2685. Next school year will see the opening of the new Shadow Creek High School campus in Pearland that will ease the situation at Manvel HS. Like the elementary schools, secondary campuses experiencing overcrowding are having to utilize temporary buildings and flex space. Strong growth is expected to persist at the secondary level as large elementary classes begin to matriculate through the district.

The need for additional schools is seldom questioned, though the bond proposal as submitted does have detractors. Some are unfailingly opposed to any form of tax increase. East side residents may question their benefit in funding improvements that serve primarily the west side. Needs have been most pressing on the west side and undeniably will continue to be so for the near term. But recent AISD bond issues have been attentive to east side needs. The 2009 bond allocated money for a substantial renovation and upgrade to Mark Twain Elementary. The 2013 bond supported a substantial expansion and renovation of Alvin JH and funded new construction of Bill Hasse Elementary to replace the previous Longfellow campus. Both bond programs provided considerable funds for numerous upgrades and maintenance on the district’s aging facilities that reside on the east side. The current bond proposal will fund improvements to the Alvin HS auditorium and stadium and a new Career and Technical Education Center in Manvel that will provide invaluable career training opportunities for all district students.

Some feel the district is taking on too large a debt obligation and that the cost of the proposed buildings is excessive. Recent reports from a private government watchdog group (www.watchdog.org) claims AISD is building the most expensive schools in the state. Analyses of the data used to support that contention are based on 2013 construction costs compiled by the state’s comptroller (www.texastransparency.org). The report acknowledges the data submitted was not “independently verified”, that districts “did not make it easy to acquire the data,” that submitted data was often changed prior to the reports completion, and that many districts “could not locate building records, making it difficult to accurately verify costs.” AISD officials point out the comparison is flawed too in that the comptroller costs represent merely construction costs while AISD cost estimates include the total project – land acquisition, site preparation, engineering and design, associated roads and parking lots, furniture, fixtures, equipment, technology, athletic and arts facilities, etc. When comparing just construction costs, AISD consistently ranks below the national average and generally lands in the middle of regional costs according to a February report by the School Planning & Management organization (www.webspm.com). It also is reasonable to note that construction costs have increased since 2013 in the range of 5% to 10% each year. A more accurate evaluation of cost comparisons would require adjustment to numbers anticipated in 2016 and beyond.

AISD administrators boast good stewardship in prior bond spending programs. Taxpayers enjoyed lower tax rate increases than anticipated in each of the prior two bond programs in 2009 ($70,095,000) and 2013 ($252,600,000). The 2009 package anticipated an increase in the tax rate of 9 cents and resulted in an actual 4 cent increase. The 2013 bond package anticipated an increase in the tax rate of 11.39 cents though taxpayers have experienced an actual increase in 8.79 cents. In order to service the 2015 bond funds, district officials claim taxpayers will see an increase in their tax burden not to exceed 8.3 cents per $100 valuation. That translates to a higher yearly tax bill of $80.30 per $100,000 of taxable home value, or $6.92 each month. AISD comprises 252 square miles with considerable new development in progress. The need for infrastructure to accommodate the growth necessarily portends tax increases for citizens. A steady increase in new home construction and the associated commercial development will serve over time to moderate the burden on taxpayers as it will be shared by a larger number of contributors.

Another reason posited for opposition is the inclusion of an athletic complex that some consider unnecessary and extravagant. The percentage of the bond program dedicated to the new district stadium ($41.4 million) represents 14.5% of the total package. With the new Shadow Creek High School coming to operation next year, three programs will require athletic facilities in which to compete. Add to that the expectation of a fourth high school opening by 2021 and a possible six high schools ultimately serving the district. Originally constructed in 1945 proponents claim the current Alvin stadium is not up to present-day standards to sufficiently accommodate the teams or the fans. It is described as old, land locked and unable to be expanded, and offers inadequate parking. Several games in recent years saw fans being refused admission due to its lack of capacity. The $41.4 million budgeted for the stadium compares to Katy ISD funding a 12,000 seat structure at $58 million approved by voters in 2014 and Clear Creek ISD funding a 9,500 seat structure at $39.1 million approved by voters in 2013.

Early voting runs through Oct. 30. Brazoria County will continue the policy of allowing voters to cast a ballot at any county polling location during both the early voting period and on Election Day. Additionally, voting will be available at most AISD campuses on a rolling schedule. School locations and dates as well as information to help taxpayers make an informed decision on whether or not the bond merits support is available on the AISD website (www.alvinisd.net).

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