Keller Citizen

Voters in the Keller school district approve $169.5 million in bonds

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

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— 40 percent of registered voters — 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.

The current bond is designed to address enrollment growth, support recent instructional changes and improve existing facilities, district officials said. The big-ticket items in the plan include $74.5 million to build three new schools in the southwest corner of the district; a $37.3 million renovation and addition to South Keller Intermediate School to transform it into a career and technical education facility; $23.5 million for additions and renovations at Keller High School; and $12.1 million for additions at Parkwood Hill Intermediate and Hillwood Middle schools.

PACs very involved

Opposition to the bond election came from the group Direct Action Texas, which said that Keller district officials were not providing enough information about debt and bond payments, and A Better Bond for KISD Kids, the political action committee started by Direct Action’s Aaron Harris, a North Richland Hills Republican precinct chair, which criticized Keller’s level of debt.

A committee in support of the packages also formed — 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. Gerda said his opponents used scare tactics on voters, but the strategy didn’t work on the majority who took time to research facts.

“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.