Illustration by Jessica Turner
A $750 million bond package to transform Richardson ISD’s aging campuses will soon fall into the hands of voters. RISD officials are urging voters not to be disoriented by confusing ballot language.
The district board of trustees approved a bond committee’s recommendation in January. Stakeholders will vote on the bond on May 1.
Conversations with the community on ballot language has been key in messaging over the bond. The ballot will read, “This is a property tax increase”; however, RISD’s tax rate will not change under the 2021 bond.
“That’s important for everyone to understand,” RISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone says. “That has to be on the ballot, even if you were dramatically lowering taxes. This is not a tax rate increase in Richardson ISD.”
This ballot language comes from a requirement from a Texas school finance reform bill, House Bill 3, passed during the last legislative session.
In a video urging Dallas ISD voters to pass its historic $3.7 billion bond last year, State Rep. Rafael Anchia said labeling every school bond a “tax increase,” even when there is no tax increase, was a compromise in the legislative process.
“The easiest answer right now is that it’s the law,” says Sandra Hayes, RISD assistant superintendent of district operations. “The law says we have to put that language on there regardless of what the circumstances are for each school district.”
Another common question from stakeholders has been what would happen if the bond did not pass. The simple answer: proposed items in the bond would be a no-go.
The 2021 bond proposes that all RISD junior highs transform to middle schools. The Lake Highlands feeder pattern is first up for this shift, and its junior highs would become middle schools by the 2024-25 school year. Stone says this proposal has been met with positive feedback from the community.
The middle school transformation will free up space at elementary campuses for RISD’s prekindergarten program.
“This will address many of the growth challenges and issues where we have to overflow kids so that they don’t get to go to their neighborhood school,” Stone says. “This strategy will eliminate that practice for us.”
The bond proposes major renovations and the rebuilding of RISD’s aging campuses, which have an average age of 53 years, over the next decade.
Lake Highlands Junior High would be rebuilt and Forest Meadow Junior High would undergo major renovation. Renovations are also in the cards for Stults Road and Hamilton Park Elementary schools.
“Everyone understands that it’s time for that,” Stone says. “This is part of a long-range transformation to achieve equity across the entire district in terms of transforming not only the opportunities for kids, but transforming the buildings in terms of much needed renovations or rebuilds.”
RISD’s financial model relies on a five-year bond cycle. If the bond did not pass, Hayes says the district would go back to the drawing board and see if the board would go out for a new bond in November.
The district could find money for small items on the current proposal, but a vast majority of items could not be funded should the bond fail.
“Things like the middle school model and major construction, there would just be no funds to do that,” says RISD public information officer Tim Clark.
Even with the continued prevalence of the pandemic, Hayes says the election, which is conducted by the county, will likely run like the November election.
Historically, May elections have a smaller turnout than in November, but Clark says RISD’s two contested board of trustees seats may drive more to vote.
“We anticipate anywhere between 3,000-8,000 people typically in May for these types of elections,” Hayes says.
Stone is urging the RISD community to get out and vote as the passage of the 2021 bond has the potential to kick off long-term changes within the district into the 2026 bond and beyond.
“The schools belong to the community,” she says. “This is an opportunity for everyone to look at what the recommendations were and look at the long-range nature of transformation for the district that really has an impact on a generation or more.”
$56 million to refresh technology devices for teachers, students and staff.
Beware the ballot language
New ballot language required by the state requires all Texas schools to state “This is a property tax increase” on their ballots even if there is no property tax change. RISD’s tax rate will not change under proposed bond 2021.
RISD Vote Centers in Lake Highlands
Forest Meadow Junior High
Moss Haven Elementary
Thurgood Marshall Elementary
Merriman Park Elementary
Lake Highlands High
Lake Highlands Elementary
Lake Highlands Junior High