Tablet Local

Birdville, Keller school bonds favored by voters in early returns

Eighteen months after voters defeated a bond proposal, the Birdville school district easily passed a revamped package.

Voters in the Keller school district also approved a bond package with 57 percent of the vote in a contentious campaign.

“I think voters understood the need better this time,” said Mark Wood, co-chairman of the Birdville Backers political action committee. “I think they were happy that items that were not desired were cut out.”

Birdville Superintendent Darrell Brown said that the current package was more “unifying” because it did not eliminate any schools and likely had a better result because the failed bond in 2013 rallied district supporters.

Birdville’s $163.2 million in bonds will rebuild three of its oldest campuses, upgrade technology at all schools and improve security.

Voters said yes to the bond, 67 percent to 33 percent, with all precincts reporting.

The story was quite different in May 2013, when 57 percent of voters opposed a $183.2 million bond. One unpopular component in the 2013 bond would have consolidated four elementary schools into two. Birdville officials said they listened to survey results, removed the consolidation proposal and trimmed $20 million for the 2014 measure.

The tax increase for an average home in the district, valued at about $120,000, will be about $3 a month. Senior citizens claiming an “over 65” exemption will not have an increase.

Keller bond ahead

Keller’s $169.5 million bond proposal will build three schools, renovate and expand an existing school to make it a career training center, renovate and add on to Keller High School, and upgrade security and technology.

Of the 36,753 people voting, 57 percent voted for the bond and 43 percent opposed it.

Keller Superintendent Randy Reid said he was pleased that voters turned out in large numbers and educated themselves on what was a complex plan.

“Our community members did a good job of seeking out information,” Reid said. “The most important thing for me was to make sure our community made this decision. The larger turnout made sure we got a true feel for the wishes of the community.”

Keller’s last bond election in 2008 was largely successful. Voters approved $142.3 million to build Timberview Middle School, Ridgeview Elementary and the Keller Early Learning Center, along with technology and security upgrades but rejected $25.6 million to build a second district competition stadium.

More recently, a 2011 referendum to raise the tax rate failed.

The 2014 bond will not raise the tax rate, already at the 50 cent maximum mandated by state law. Officials said that growth in property values, refinancing old bond debt and paying off bonds early allowed the district to raise funds without increasing the rate.

PACs very involved

Opposition to the bond election in both districts came from the group Direct Action Texas, which said the districts were not providing enough information about debt and bond payments.

Committees in support of the packages also formed in each district — Birdville Backers and Vote Yes for Keller Schools.

The campaigns on both sides were well-funded and marked by voter complaints of workers using aggressive tactics at early voting sites. A Tarrant County elections official was posted outside Keller Town Hall for most of the second week of early voting to keep campaign workers from crossing the 100-foot boundary and to try to keep them from harassing voters.

David Gerda, co-chairman of the Vote Yes for Keller Schools committee, said that the group’s members “put their lives on hold for six weeks” to work on the campaign and educate voters.

Gerda said the pro-bond group got a later start and had less funding than the opposition, “A Better Bond for KISD Kids.” Gerda said his opponents used scare tactics on voters, but the strategy didn’t work on the majority.

“It’s a lot harder to educate people than to scare people,” he said.

Gerda said campaign workers were parents “with skin in the game” who gained the trust of voters.

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