By George Slaughter
Katy school trustees Monday approved a $676 million school bond proposal for voter consideration in the May election.
The proposal is broken into four separate propositions, which are:
- Proposition A: New schools, purchase of school sites, renovations and expansions for aging campuses, safety and security, buses, and building component replacements, for $591,368,568.
- Proposition B: Classroom and campus technology, for $59,755,242.
- Proposition C: A natatorium for High School #10, so as to be consistent with other high schools, all of which have their own natatoriums, for $13,842,610.
- Proposition D: Campus and district athletic facilities/stadium repairs and component replacements, for $11,260,000.
The proposal came together through a series of meetings held by a bond advisory committee, which includes 110 local parents, community leaders, retirees, teachers, students, and campus principals.
The coronavirus pandemic compelled a different process for reviewing the bond proposal ideas. In past years, the committee held several meetings and visited campuses needing work. But with the pandemic on, the committee met only three times in January. Committee members followed social distancing guidelines when they met. They reviewed projected school enrollment growth and district financial capacity, watched videos highlighting where work was needed, and discussed how best to go forward.
Dr. Ken Gregorski, Katy Independent School District superintendent, said the original plan was to put the committee together last summer and have a bond package proposal ready for the November 2021 ballot. The pandemic forced district leaders to regroup.
“We made videos in the fall and late winter,” Gregorski said. “We provided the data and information to the bond committee well in advance, so they watched the video presentations and they read a whole lot, where they would’ve in the past just came in and watched the presentations there.”
Gregorski described the process as “flip classroom,” which enabled the district to move things quickly because the committee would already be briefed about the proposed projects.
“They’d seen the videos, they read the report, they’ve looked at all the data, and now it’s time to come in,” Gregorski said.
Gregorski said the district has rolled out bond issues every three or four years so the district can keep up with growth. The district has a present enrollment of 85,121 students but is projected to reach 88,490 students by the end of this year. The district continues to grow at an average of 2,500 new students per school year.
The district projects 97,632 students enrolled by 2020. Much of that growth is in the northwest area of the district, near the Cane Island subdivision, and north towards FM 529.
“We manage a lot of growth in this district,” Gregorski said.
Proposition A calls for the building of one high school, one junior high school, and three elementary schools. Gregorski said if voters reject the bond proposals, Paetow High School would have an enrollment of 5,000 students and Katy High School would have an enrollment of 4,000 students, which he said was “way beyond” the capacity for those two schools.
District leaders acknowledged they will have three challenges in particular when it comes to getting the word out about the bond package. One challenge involves tough economic times caused by the pandemic.
“If you watched state Comptroller Glenn Hegar, he has spoken about the economy, and that things are not as bad in Texas people thought they could be,” Gregorski said. “And that’s a driver in there, that we see the economy is starting to rebound a little bit.”
Gregorski said other economic factors were in play, including low interest rates and the construction jobs that would come from the work projects.
“People want to get put back to work, so now’s the time to start building as well,” Gregorski said.
The other two challenges come from recently-enacted state laws involving the language voters will see on the ballot. The bond has no tax increase, but state law requires that the ballot say it is a tax increase.
The other issue involves splitting the proposal into four propositions. This change enables greater transparency, Gregorski said.
“Voters go to the polls, and should be informed about what you’re voting on and you need to get educated, and that’s our job do to that,” Gregorski said. “We take that seriously.”
Towards that end, the district set up a web page providing more information on the bond election, Home (katyisd.org).
Voters approved a $609 million bond in 2017.
Early voting is April 19-27. Election Day is May 1.