Illustrations by Jessica Turner and Renee Umsted

A proposed $750 million bond in Richardson ISD includes plans to shift Lake Highlands’ junior highs to middle schools by the 2024-25 school year.

RISD’s bond steering committee formally presented the 2021 bond package at a Jan. 11 meeting. The bond proposal includes two propositions and would not increase RISD’s tax rate.

RISD Chief Financial Officer David Pate says the district is able to not raise its tax rate because of a strong financial profile in which RISD has issued refunding bonds and made conservative estimates for future property value growth.

“Knowing that Richardson ISD is on this five-year bond cycle, [we’re just] really trying to create capacity in future years to minimize the impact of a future election,” Pate says.

Senate Bill 30 requires RISD to have two separate propositions on the ballot, bond committee member Bonnie Altimore says.

The committee proposed a main proposition in the amount of $637 million, which will include funding for teaching and learning, fine arts, athletics and special education. A technology proposition is proposed for $113 million.

The bond would transform RISD’s junior high model by shifting sixth-graders from elementary schools into a middle school model with seventh- and eighth-graders. The Lake Highlands school community is first in line for this transformation.

Phase 1 of the sixth-grade transformation timeline would rebuild Lake Highlands Junior High and renovate Forest Meadow Junior High. The first sixth-grade class of Lake Highlands Middle School and Forest Meadow Middle School would come by the 2024-25 school year. 

RISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone says the idea for the middle school transformation came from the district’s 2017 strategic plan as a facility solution.

“Many of our schools were really limited in space, and we’ve had, in the past, to overflow kids from the neighborhood school,” Stone says. “The Facilities Committee saw this as a solution to move this forward as part of their strategic plan. We recognize that this decision needed to be made from the eyes of curriculum and instruction.” 

A facilities audit found the cost to renovate Lake Highlands Junior High and fix its systems, which were at end of life, would cost as much as it would to rebuild the school, says Sandra Hayes, RISD assistant superintendent of district operations.   

“We have never torn down a building and rebuilt it. We have only renovated at this point,” Hayes says. “But due to the age and the condition of the systems, this is in the best interest of taxpayer dollars.”

The facility needs at Lake Highlands and Forest Meadow junior highs are why RISD is tackling the middle school transformation in the Lake Highlands learning community first, Hayes says.

The social and emotional needs of sixth-graders played a part in RISD’s middle school transformation as well, says RISD Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum.

“Two years in junior high is not enough time to really build a community and help students transition during what is a ton of personal and physical change,” Branum says. “We need more time with them in the middle school configuration.” 

The board approved a resolution at the Jan. 11 meeting to create a true middle school learning environment.

 Stone says the board passed the resolution to formalize the entire transformation plan beyond the 2021 bond and into a potential bond in 2026.

“I think this is one of the first times as we were planning for one bond, we were actually planning for the next one and needing to look at this long-range plan,” Stone says.

RISD will first vote on the 2021 bond election, which district officials say will be called Feb. 8.

“The board feels like there is a commitment being made to the community,” Stone says. “We’re doing Lake Highlands in the first bond, but the remainder of the schools will be completed in the subsequent bonds.”