A Keller school district proposal to use $315 million in bond debt to replace some school buildings, build extracurricular facilities and make other repairs and upgrades seem to have drawn more than the typical grumbling.
We get it. Voters should be naturally cautious about new debt and spending. They should make sure their school trustees are frugal and set the right priorities. But in this case, Keller leaders appear to have done just that.
One of the eye-popping items in the bond proposal is $48.6 million to build four indoor spaces for extracurricular activities, primarily athletics. There’s one for each Keller high school. District officials stress that the facilities will serve many purposes, but it’s worth noting they’ll have 100-yard turf fields with markings every one yard and 10 yards. That said, band members and other athletics teams can use these facilities.
Such facilities are not out of line for high schools such as those in Keller. And having them will help families by eliminating weather disruptions for activities and contribute to student safety by getting them out of the heat, as summers get longer and hotter.
Questions have also been raised about replacing four elementary schools with entirely new buildings rather than making renovations and repairs. But the oldest of these dates to the 70s, and the district carefully studied each of its 42 campuses to determine whether it was more cost-effective to repair or replace facilities. The thoroughness of the process should engender confidence among voters.
Keller would also create a new center for industrial, trade and agricultural education. With the turmoil over higher education costs and the increasing realization that kids need a broad menu of options to prepare for the workforce, this is an important investment.
Perhaps the biggest objection raised, though, is simply to the idea of adding more debt. Keller ISD has about $650 million in principal debt, and taking that close to $1 billion is a tough threshold for some fiscal conservatives. But the district remains well within recommended state guidelines for debt load.
And at a time of economic growth, the district can borrow without raising its tax rate, although of course homeowners are paying much more through increased property appraisals. Some critics have suggested that even deeper debt is around the corner, and it’s true that the district has a long list of projects it hopes to complete.
In this case, leaders led a months-long process of evaluation, with citizen-led committees winnowing the wish list for the bond proposition. And this proposal should be evaluated on its merits, not the chance it will open the door to further debt and spending. When that day comes, voters will have their say.
Keller has a chance to invest as the district makes a long-term transition. Its population is no longer booming, though the overall area is seeing sustained growth. Preparing new facilities and upgrading others will position the district for the change it’s seeing. Voters should say yes to that thoughtful long-range planning.