To better understand the $52 million bond proposal on the May ballot, Burnet school district voters should look east down Texas 29.
Liberty Hill Independent School District is facing rapid growth and putting a $490 million bond proposal before its own voters in May.
“They’re expecting to double in size as a school district by 2025, and every indication is that growth is going to spill over into Burnet (Consolidated Independent School District) and first going to be at Bertram Elementary,” said BCISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett during his recent State of the District address.
McBurnett said BCISD is being proactive with its bond to address growth and other issues instead of playing catchup like Liberty Hill.
The BCISD bond package is split into four propositions.
Proposition A, at $27.5 million, would address renovations on each campus, add an isolation station at each campus nurse’s office, and purchase replacement buses. It also includes funds to pay for a new wing at Bertram Elementary School to address current and future growth. Without it, the campus will exceed capacity within the next couple of years.
Proposition B, at $11.8 million, would fund upgrades to athletic facilities at Burnet High School and Burnet Middle School. It includes money for a new weight room at the high school and a new field at the middle school. Currently, both campuses share a field and weight room.
Proposition C, at $4.3 million, would fund student and teacher devices, districtwide infrastructure improvements to support those devices, and districtwide security enhancements.
BCISD’s current security system allows campus leaders to lock all doors entering the buildings with one key card. Bond money would go toward installing a system that locks all classrooms with one key card.
Proposition D, at $8.9 million, would fund a 50,000-square-foot student activity center. McBurnett described it as a metal building with rollup doors and an artificial turf field. It would be a covered space for teams, the Esprit de Corps, and cheerleaders to practice as well as for physical education classes and elementary school field days.
McBurnett said the bond proposal comes down to three things: preparing for future growth, taking advantage of the current financial environment, and protecting and preserving the district’s operating budget.
Approval by voters in May will save district taxpayers money in the long run, he said.
District administration projects it can land a 2.42 percent interest rate over the course of the 20-year bonds. McBurnett pointed out that the district averages paying off debt in 15 years, which saves it five years on interest payments.
And cost of construction is only going to rise, he said, something the district has seen in the past two years. McBurnett said several of the projects in this bond were included in the 2019 package that didn’t pass, and the administration has had to factor in inflation for the latest numbers. On top of that, as school districts and other entities across the state tackle construction projects, competition for contractors could drive up costs.
McBurnett said that, based on conservative financial projections, the May bond will not cause an increase in the district’s property tax rate. Currently, BCISD has a tax rate of $1.15 per $100 valuation, the second lowest compared to area school districts. The rate is separated into maintenance and operation (95.1 cents) and interest and sinking (19.5 cents).
Maintenance and operation funds many of the day-to-day costs, such as salaries, utilities, and fuel. Interest and sinking supports bond debt.
Funding these growth-oriented projects through the interest and sinking side of the budget will keep the district from having to dig into the operations budget, McBurnett said. And taking a proactive approach toward growth and other projects outlined in the May bond keeps the district from having to play catchup. Both of those scenarios could mean higher tax rates.
As it goes now, the district is actually looking at lowering the tax rate again in August.
McBurnett pointed out that Liberty Hill ISD currently has an interest and sinking tax rate of 50 cents, the highest allowed by law. Its total tax rate is $1.36 per $100 property valuation.
It’s not a rate McBurnett wishes upon BCISD taxpayers, and it’s something he believes can be avoided.
“As superintendent, I know the community expects a lot of me. They expect me to lead today, making decisions that impact day-to-day operations,” he said. “They also expect me to be thinking out five to 10 years. That’s exactly what this board of trustees and administration team has always been committed to.”
The district has set up a May 2021 Bond webpage for more information. People can also submit questions, if not already answered in the FAQ section, and district officials will respond.