Community Advisory Committee Considers Bond Proposal

HPISD’s Community Advisory Committee is meeting for the second time March 5 to consider items to include in a potential bond proposal that could appear on the ballot in November 2024 or May 2025.

The 23-member committee, which met for the first time Feb. 27, is made up of district stakeholders, including former PTA and Dads Club executives, former mayors, and SMU board members. It will continue to meet in March and April.

Click HERE to visit the district’s community advisory committee webpage, which includes information on committee membership and links to the slideshows viewed by the committee.

At the top of the district’s list of potential items to include in a bond is $33 million for high priority needs. The chiller piping system at the HPMS/MIS campus has failed several times over the past few years, including twice in the past 10 months, HPISD superintendent Mike Rockwood told the committee.

“This is something that has to be remediated immediately,” he said. The district will begin repairs in the next few weeks. It plans to do major work on the system over the summer, and could use bond funds to pay itself back for those fixes, Rockwood explained.

Other priorities include district-wide security upgrades, repairs at MIS/HPMS and the district’s two other oldest campuses – Armstrong Elementary and Highland Park High School – as well as renovations at Highlander Stadium and the indoor practice facility.

The school district could issue bonds without increasing its tax rate, even if property values do not continue to go up or grow only modestly, representatives from RBC Capital Markets told the committee. HPISD could also use bond revenue to free up daily operating funds and raise salaries for teachers and staff.

“If we’re trying to be competitive salary-wise and we’re all funded on the same formula, a few percentage difference points makes a big difference,” assistant superintendent for business services Scott Drillette said. “When teachers are looking at salaries, they’re looking at a few thousand dollars.”

Tax dollars collected by school districts, he explained, go into two buckets. The first is for maintenance and operations (M&O), which funds teacher salaries and daily operating costs.

Although the amount of M&O dollars a school district collects is based on property values, state law determines how much of that money each district gets to keep. In the 2022-23 school year, HPISD collected $162.5 million in M&O dollars, but was only able to keep $55.4 million. The remaining $107.1 million was recaptured by the state.

Bond dollars, Drillette said, go into the second bucket and are not subject to recapture. Bonds can only be used for capital projects, but the district could capitalize some expenses currently in the M&O fund to free up dollars for salaries and help the district compete for teacher and staff talent. 

Since the 2021 Golden Penny election, Drillette said, the district has made strides in increasing teacher salaries. It’s gone from ranking between 22nd and 25th out of 25 comparison districts to between 7th and 24th, depending on experience and whether a teacher has a master’s degree.

Drillette said the district has maximized its benefit from the Golden Penny election and will not be able to continue giving salary increases at the same rate. And, despite the district’s efforts to maximize all the revenue it receives, “we’re still below the median in most of the categories.”

Board of Trustees Finance Officer Doug Woodward said HPISD needs to plan for future challenges, including continued recapture of funds and a lack of financial support from the state.

“The legislature had $33 billion of excess funds and not a penny of it made it to us. And the basic allotment that we’ve received from the state has remained unchanged for five years,” he said. “Inflation is over 20 percent in that time, and we still have the same amount of money to operate on.”

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