PROJECTED ANNUAL TAX INCREASE
$900 – $1,384 – The amount of per-year increase on a $1 million home (approximately $75-$115 per month), depending on when debt is issued and how it is structured.
EXPECTED TAX RATE
$1.2280 – $1.2905 – Expected rate for 2017-18 depending on timing and structure of debt issuance.The bond structures being considered are for a 20-30 year bond term.
Even in the Park Cities, where the average home sells for more than $1 million, the latest bond proposal from Highland Park ISD is financially ambitious.
The district is asking taxpayers to approve more than $361 million on Nov. 3 for the razing and rebuilding of three elementary schools, the addition of a new elementary campus, and extensive renovations to its three remaining schools.
It’s the product of a big-picture mindset to combat unprecedented enrollment growth that’s expected to continue. But do the dollars make sense?
HOW IT ADDS UP
Highland Park High School
“I think the $360 million price tag scares some people a little bit, but I think a lot of people feel it’s worth it,” said Blythe Koch, a member of the Facilities Advisory Committee, a volunteer group that spent several months helping conceive the idea before presenting it to HPISD trustees. “There were a lot of issues that we felt we couldn’t address with renovation. The cost-benefit analysis was what drove us to that decision.”
During the past 25 years, HPISD has seen enrollment rise by an average of 2.2 percent per year. That brings the total to 7,092 students, or an increase of 3,000 between 1989 and 2014. According to the district, demographers forecast another 1,000 students to enroll by 2023, as more young families buy homes.
If it’s approved, the bond referendum would likely add more than $1,000 per year to the tax bill for a $1 million home, depending on when the debt is issued and how it’s structured. That would land somewhere around $1.25 per $100 of assessed property value. The term would likely be 20 to 30 years.
Homeowners 65 and older aren’t subject to the increase because of a homestead exemption. Other property owners are subject to a 20 percent exemption from the district.
FAC members said the timing is key. The plan calls for the fifth elementary school to be built on 4.6 acres the district plans to buy for $20 million from Northway Christian Church. The new school would be constructed first, then used as a relief campus as Bradfield, Hyer, and University Park elementary schools are torn down and rebuilt, one by one, over a three-year period. Then the attendance zones would be redrawn and the new school would open.
Furthermore, the committee emphasized currently favorable interest rates for issuing debt, and other economic factors that didn’t make a proposal of this magnitude feasible in 2008, when HPISD held a $75.4 million bond election.
Yet even in an affluent community with high expectations for its public education system, will the latest bond plan stretch the limits of the tax burden that HPISD voters are willing to bear?
“This makes no sense,” said Steve Dawson, treasurer of the Save HPISD Schools Committee. “There are other ways to approach this problem that are more cost-efficient.”
Dawson criticized trustees for poor planning, lack of transparency, and fiscal irresponsibility with the proposal, and said the package should focus more on core needs for students.
“We’re struggling to maintain any sort of trust in this board,” Dawson said. “We’re very concerned about the fact that this is an inflated bond.”
However, bond proponents argue the costs are necessary to ensure that facilities will remain in line with future student needs.
“That’s a number that is worth educating our kids the right way and with the right facilities,” said Doug Thompson, co-chairman of the FAC.