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On Tuesday's Ballot: Building New Schools, Amending The Texas Constitution

Jacqueline Mermea
The Texas Tribune

North Texas school districts have a pretty big stake in Tuesday's election -- there are several bond proposals for voters to consider. Voters will also decide whether to amend the Texas Constitution -- there are seven proposed amendments ranging from taxes to highways.  

Before finding your nearest polling station, know your ballot with reports from KERA’s Stella Chavez and Krystina Martinez and The Texas Tribune.

First, how do school bonds work?

The Texas Association of School Boards has this explainer:

Bonds for school projects are very similar to a mortgage on a home. To finance construction projects, the district sells bonds to investors who will be paid principal and interest.  Payout is limited by law to 40 years. The sale of bonds begins with an election to authorize a specific amount —the maximum the district is allowed to sell without another election.  The school district sells them as municipal bonds when funds are needed for capital projects —usually once or twice a year.  Bids are taken from interested buyers, usually large institutional investors – and are sold at the lowest interest rate offered.  The rate is based on the district’s bond rating—the higher the bond rating, the lower the interest rate to sell the bonds.  Principal and interest on the bonds are repaid over an extended period of time with funds from the Debt Service tax rate.

The Big One: Dallas ISD

Dallas voters will decide on a $1.6 billion bond issue, which proposes to create nine new schools, 326 classrooms, expanded cafeterias and technology upgrades and programs.

Pinkston High School, one of the schools that would be positively affected by the bond, would be rebuilt from $464 million allocated to new school construction.

KERA’s Stella Chavez reported in late October that Pinkston’s rebuild would allow for CTE — career and technical education — programs. With the bond issue, about $92 million would go toward programs like CTE as well as early childhood and innovation schools. Here's the full 2015 Proposed Bond Program.

Read more from Stella’s report here

Several other North Texas school districts have put bond packages on the ballot. Following are the bullet points, but you can read more here.

Highland Park ISD

The proposed bond package: $361.4 million

What it’s for:

  • The biggest block of money would pay for renovations and additions to four schools.
  • Rebuilding three elementary schools and constructing the first new one since 1949.
  • The rest would pay for more land, technology upgrades and additions to extracurricular programs.

Allen ISD

The proposed bond package: $272 million

What it’s for:

  • A large portion of the package will be used to rebuild the Lowery Freshman Center, which Superintendent Lance Hindt estimates has been renovated seven times since it opened in 1960.
  • The proposal would also pay for a new elementary school in Northwest Allen and a satellite building for Allen High School’s STEM program.
  • The rest of would go toward renovations, technology and security upgrades and more land.

Grand Prairie ISD

The proposed bond package: $91 million

What it’s for:

  • It would pay for new schools and renovations of existing buildings.
  • The bulk would go towards Grand Prairie High School, with money also going to the following schools: South Grand Prairie High School, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Austin Elementary, Bowie Elementary and Garner Elementary.
  • An item called the Tax Ratification Election (TRE) is also on the ballot. Tax ratification elections are called if a school board wants to raise its tax rate by a certain amount. The tax rate for any public school district is built into two parts: the maintenance and operation side and the debt service side.
  • Money collected under this system could be spent on other district needs like teacher pay, early childhood education and student safety.

Rockwall ISD

The proposed bond package: $257 million

What it’s for:

  • A big portion will go towards building a new college and career facility, replacing an elementary school, major renovations to another, and future construction of two new schools.
  • The rest will go to security and technology, new school buses, and other upgrades.

How could the Texas constitution change after Tuesday? Here are the seven proposed amendments:

  Proposition 1: Property tax reduction

The measure would increase property tax exemptions for homeowners from $15,000 to $25,000. The state says it will cover the lost tax revenue to school districts, which is estimated to be $600 million annually.

The amendment would also prohibit state officials from collecting taxes on real estate title transfers.

Proposition 2: Disabled veteran tax exemptions count for spouses

In 2011, Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment extending 100 percent property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of disabled veterans who have not remarried, but it did not include spouses of disabled veterans who died before Jan. 1, 2010. This amendment would expand current law to make those spouses eligible for the tax exemptions, as long as they have not remarried.

Proposition 3: Allow most statewide officials to live outside of Austin

The constitution currently requires that statewide officials including the comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner and attorney general live in Austin. If passed, Prop 3 would allow some statewide elected officials to live outside the state capital. The exceptions: governor and lieutenant governor. They would still be required to live in Austin.

Proposition 4: Professional sports teams’ charitable foundations can have more raffles

Under current law, the charitable foundations of Texas professional sports teams can only hold a certain number of charitable raffles and 50/50 raffles. Any unauthorized raffle is considered gambling. Prop 4 would increase the number of raffles held each year.

Proposition 5: Small counties can perform private road maintenance

The constitution currently allows counties with 5,000 residents or fewer to build and maintain private roads. Prop 5 raises the proposition requirement to 7,500.

Proposition 6: Guarantees Texans the right to hunt and fish

Texans already have the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. This proposition, as Republican State Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin puts it, would prevent courthouses for enforcing outright bans or limit certain types of hunting. KUT’s Ben Philpott explains.

Proposition 7: Dedicates more state revenue to the State Highway Fund

Just last year, voters approved a proposition to divert oil and gas tax revenue from the Rainy Day fund to the state highway fund. This year's measure would funnel money from two other sources: general sales tax revenue and state motor vehicle sales tax revenue. Proposition 7 would increase funding for roads by about $2.5 billion.

As with last year’s amendment, the ballot language prohibits use of this money for toll projects.

Read official ballot language here.

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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