OPINION COLUMNS

NISD has earned the voters’ trust

By Messenger Staff | Published Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Each election cycle, we are treated to a new set of “promises” by candidates. And then, usually four years later, the candidate and his or her opponent debate how well those promises have been kept.

The promise-keeping success rate is usually nothing to brag about.

Promises can also be made by school districts when it comes to bond issues. For instance, back in 2001, the Northwest Independent School District proposed a bond package with two propositions: the first was $162.7 million for campus renovations, additions and purchase of land for future school sites and the second was $19.5 million for a new stadium. Trustees at the time promised taxpayers that the debt service portion of the school tax rate would not exceed 33.5 cents per $100 valuation. The bond issue passed.

Four-and-a-half years later, when it came time for the school district to put forth another bond issue, the promise had been kept. In fact, the tax rate had dropped by a penny-and-a-half in the interim.

The 2005 bond issue was for $224 million, with 80 percent of the bond package going toward building five new campuses including three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Once again, trustees made the promise that the tax rate would not exceed 33.5 cents. The bond issue passed, and the promise was kept.

In 2008, voters were asked to approve a $260 million bond package for the construction of eight new schools, facility improvements, land purchases for future schools and new educational programs. Once again, the school pledged to keep the tax rate at 33.5 cents or lower. The bond issue passed, and the promise was kept.

Now it is 2012. Eleven years after making a promise to keep the debt service portion of the tax rate at 33.5 cents, that’s where it remains. For those keeping score, that’s nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars – yes billion, with a “b” – in projects funded without an increase in the debt service portion of the tax rate.

Along the way, the school district has also worked to be as efficient as possible in order to save money where it could. Some of those savings turned into extra projects, such as construction of Northwest High School’s indoor practice facility and additions to Justin Elementary and Gene Pike Middle School as part of the 2001 bond package.

Now the district is asking voters to approve a $255 million bond package that will include construction of a new high school and middle school, a building addition at Nance Elementary, improvements to numerous schools and technology upgrades district-wide. In order to fund these projects, the district is proposing a 7.75-cent increase in the tax rate, to 41.25 cents. For the owner of a home valued at $100,000, the estimated impact would be $6.46 a month, or $77.50 annually.

It’s hard to ask voters to approve a tax rate increase, especially as economic conditions continue to struggle to return to pre-recession levels. But in Northwest’s case, growth dictates it.

The school district is one of the fastest-growing in the state – second only to Frisco. In the past 10 years, enrollment growth has ranged from 8 to 19 percent per year. Since 2002, district enrollment has nearly tripled – from 6,200 to nearly 18,000 for the current semester. Enrollment is expected to grow by another 5,800 students in the next five years.

In addition to planning for student growth, current facilities must also be maintained.

Specifically for Wise County schools, Prairie View Elementary, Seven Hills Elementary and Chisholm Trail Middle School would receive technology updates and improved safety and security features such as updated camera systems. Seven Hills would also get a new roof, and Chisholm Trail would receive flooring, HVAC and a new roof. Northwest High School would see the same security and technology upgrades as well as flooring and HVAC replacements. And the new high school would help relieve crowding at NHS.

Over the last decade-plus, Northwest ISD has shown it knows how to spend taxpayer money efficiently and wisely and has a firm grasp on student growth projections. Voters in turn have shown a willingness to support these much-needed projects.

The projects included in the current bond package are needed to handle growth, maintain current facilities and enhance programs. That need, coupled with the district’s success rate at keeping its promise to taxpayers, leads us to recommend a “for” vote for the Northwest ISD bond issue.

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