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Dallas ISD to put record-setting bond package on ballot in November

The district's board of trustees voted 8-0 to place a nearly $3.7 billion bond package, the largest issuance of debt from any local entity in Texas history.

Sandwiched in the middle of the whirlwind day of decisions, Dallas ISD’s board of trustees voted 8-0 to place a nearly $3.7 billion bond package in front of voters in November.

The package, required by state law to be broken up into five different pieces, would touch nearly every building in the state’s second-largest school district over the next decade, with over $1.9 billion allocated for modernizations and renovations. Ten new facilities and 14 replacement campuses would be constructed, at a cost of $1.1 billion.

If approved by voters, it would be the largest issuance of debt from any local entity in state history, according to Texas Bond Review Board data, and nearly twice the size of the next-largest school district bond package: a $1.89 billion bond passed by Houston ISD in 2012.

The last three bonds issued by Dallas have all been in excess of $1 billion: $1.6 billion in 2015, $1.366 billion in 2008 and $1.35 billion in 2002.

“This bond is a commitment to the children of Dallas for the next decade,” said Drexell Owusu, co-chair of the Citizens Bond Steering Committee, in a press release. “I am excited that voters in Dallas have the opportunity to help Dallas ISD invest in the quality of our facilities so that they can match the quality of instruction that is taking place in our classrooms across the city of Dallas.”

Despite having to put language on the ballot saying “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE,” district administrators and trustees were quick to point out that the district’s property tax rate would not change if the bond is passed. The district’s existing interest and sinking tax rate of $0.2420 per $100 of assessed property value, used to service debt and interest, would stay constant and still be able to manage the new debt level.

In addition to the new schools and renovations, the district would spend $270 million for technology improvements, including helping to provide broadband access to families throughout the district; $124 million in athletics upgrades, including the installation of field turf at all the comprehensive high schools; and $41 million to create four student and family resource centers in the district’s neediest neighborhoods.

“I’m happy to support putting this bond before voters,” board president Justin Henry said, praising the fact that the package would put new school models in traditionally underserved communities around Dallas.

Trustee Dan Micciche said that while he would have changed elements of the overall package, “It is a good plan, even if it’s not a perfect plan.”

“Our kids in Dallas deserve the same kind of facilities that kids in the suburbs have, and that hasn’t happened for a long long time,” he said.

Only one trustee -- Joyce Foreman -- voiced any opposition.

“We need a bond, but maybe not this bond,” she said, arguing that the district is calling for a huge bond during one of the most uncertain times in the country’s history.

Moments after speaking against it, Foreman stepped out of the boardroom, missing the final vote.

Corbett Smith. Education writer (and part-time HS sportswriter) for The Dallas Morning News

corbettsmith@dallasnews.com /DMNEducation @corbettsmithDMN
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