Two years after passing a bond in 2020, Lamar CISD is preparing a $956.29 million bond for the Nov. 8 ballot to keep pace with enrollment. Made of three propositions, the package will go to a board vote on Aug. 22, after press time.
If passed, the bond will fund four elementary schools and a middle school, additions to all five high schools, a career and technical education center, renovations to Traylor Stadium, the construction of a second stadium, and new technology devices.
The need for the bond—and the shortened timespan since the $792.5 million bond passed in November 2020—is a result of enrollment exceeding expectations, especially in the north quadrant of the district, near Jordan Ranch and the Fulshear area, Superintendent Roosevelt Nivens said.
“A couple buildings have been built in those areas to help alleviate the growth, but the growth is coming so fast that we are not able to get facilities open in time before we can get all the students in comfortably without portable buildings,” Nivens said.
February data from demographic firm Population and Survey Analysts shows LCISD’s enrollment increased from around 1,300 new students in the 2020-21 school year to about 3,000 new students in 2021-22. By 2032, PASA predicts LCISD’s enrollment will increase 76.3%, calling for 27 new campuses, Chief Operations Officer Greg Buchanan said.
“We are [one of] the fastest-growing districts in the state of Texas,” Nivens said. “We have more kids coming than we have space and [faster] than we can put space up.”
The 2022 bond prioritizes safety, security and expanding the district, Buchanan said—similar to the last three bonds passed in 2014, 2017 and 2020. Several projects from those bonds are still ongoing with Phelan elementary school set to open in Richmond this year and Terrell and Gray elementary schools set for 2023.
The main goal in developing this year’s bond, Buchanan said, was to make sure the district’s tax rate does not increase from the district’s current property tax rate of $1.242 per $100 valuation. LCISD Chief Financial Officer Jill Ludwig said LCISD is able to maintain the tax rate by utilizing property value growth and other sources of revenue.
“As our values grow, we can accommodate more expenses, more principal and interest,” Ludwig said. “We try to accommodate our needs, the students’ needs, the community’s needs and then determine what propositions to put before voters.”
The proposed 2022 bond is split into three propositions. The $697.23 million Proposition A would fund four elementary schools and a middle school, which would open in 2025 and 2026. Officials have not yet identified where the schools would be located but noted the need is throughout the district. Proposition A of the bond also includes expanding gyms and cafeterias at all five high schools, purchasing portable buildings and adding infrastructure technology.
Another facility in Proposition A is a $171.5 million career and technical education center, where students can prepare for professions such as culinary arts, cosmetology, welding and construction, entrepreneurship, and nursing by receiving certifications before they graduate, Buchanan said.
“We want to make sure when students leave Lamar CISD they are sought after—not just competitive,” Nivens said. “We want to make sure that when they leave us they have choices and opportunity.”
Proposition B of the bond would put $183.91 million toward athletics and extracurriculars. It includes LED lighting and turf for Traylor Stadium as well as the creation of a 10,000-seat stadium and CTE classrooms with locker rooms. Lastly, the $16.76 million coming from Proposition C would fund technology hardware, such as laptops, desktops, iPads, projectors and graphic arts printers.
With the rapid growth, Greg Smith, the executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition, said LCISD must balance the creation of new schools and renovations of older campuses.
“Any time you get a chance to decrease the overcrowding conditions, you put safety first,” Smith said. “Then you have to come in with learning outcomes and expectations.”
The FGSC, an education advocacy group, helps “destination districts” such as LCISD—with high student performance and land—by making demographic reports to stay ahead of growth and working with legislators to support districts, he said.
“There’s just tremendous challenges in terms of staffing with dollars that you have available in your local budget,” Smith said. “You have a teacher shortage and [a] funding shortage on the same line.”
Smith said another difficulty growing districts face is the rate in which Texas school bonds have passed—decreasing from 80%-85% three years ago to around 62% in the last three elections.
“Voters are speaking loud and clear: [They are asking], ‘Are you keeping your facilities up to date? Are you upgrading your facilities when needed?’” Smith said. “When you ask for things you have to have versus things you would like to have, the public has been savvy enough to catch on [to] that.”
Plus, implementing infrastructure for new facilities is a challenge for LCISD, which makes up 43% of Fort Bend County across 15 municipalities, Buchanan said.
“Each municipality has a different process,” he said. “We have to go through [the] county, then flood control, then engineering. They [all] have to sign off on it [to] start construction.”
PASA data shows multiple LCISD areas are expected to have more than 500 new single-family housing starts between 2021-31. Growth is concentrated in the southern portion of the district, near Kendleton, Beasely and Pleak but spreads to Richmond, Rosenberg, Fulshear and near Katy.
“For every 1,000 homes that go up, I need an elementary school,” Buchanan said.
Pre-K to fifth-graders are the projected largest-growing group over the next decade, per PASA data. Four new elementary schools would open in 2025 and 2026 if the bond passes. Plus, 11 of 17 new campuses from the last three bonds were elementary schools. Nivens said the elementary and early education timeframe in a student’s academic career is pivotal to their education.
“Early childhood education is critical, especially when we talk about literacy and numeracy,” Nivens said. “The sooner we can get a student into a structured classroom setting, an environment that values academics, the better.”
The July completion of Phelan Elementary School and the anticipated completion of Terrell and Adriane Gray elementary schools in April and May 2023, respectively, will support the growth, Buchanan said. Phelan and Terrell elementaries were in the 2017 bond with Gray in the 2020 district bond.
The district also continues to focus on adding and renovating all facilities, officials said. A $12.2 million alternative learning center, another project in the 2020 bond, was completed in July. Though resources and educators are stretched thin, Nivens said the district plans to remain competitive in quality despite rapid growth by upholding high standards and being intentional.
“Even though capacities are increasing, that doesn’t negate the fact that we still have to make students feel important and feel connected,” he said.