Central Texas elections: 10 school districts call for bond, VATRE elections

Nearly $315.5 million in school bonds is on the ballot this November.

Ten Central Texas school districts have called elections for Nov. 7: Fayetteville ISD, Gonzales ISD, Lago Vista ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Lexington ISD, Lockhart ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Round Rock ISD, Schulenburg ISD, and Waelder ISD.

Lake Travis ISD is asking for the most funding at $143 million, with Waelder ISD asking for the least at $6.926 million.

Also notable about this election cycle is five school districts have called for a VATRE, or Voter-Approval Tax Ratification Election, an election required by the state of Texas where voters are asked to approve the district's tax rate if it is greater than the rate set by the State. 

Many of the districts calling for a VATRE say this is in response to projected funding shortages and budget deficits due to a variety of factors, including decreased enrollment, high recapture payments, discontinued federal funding, unfunded state mandates and the Texas Legislature.

Also on the ballot in Texas is Senate Bill 2, which would raise the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000. This would affect how property taxes are calculated, thus affecting school funding.

Fayetteville ISD

Fayetteville ISD has called for a VATRE for the first time in the district's history.

The district says it is asking voters to approve a total tax rate of $.9041. This new tax rate will generate an estimated additional $180,000 in revenue as compared to the estimated revenues for the district for 2022-23.

The proposed tax rate is a reduction of $0.2405 from the 2022-23 total FISD tax rate of $1.1446.

FISD says that its 2023-24 approved budget has a projected deficit of $132,617 due to multiple factors, including decreased enrollment, the need to purchase a new school bus and staff salary increases.

If the VATRE passes, FISD plans to use the additional revenue to:

  • Maintain the already approved increased compensation for FISD educators and staff, thus eliminating the budget deficit
  • Provide additional funding to address identified needs and improvements

For more information on FISD's VATRE election, click here.

Gonzales ISD

Gonzales ISD is requesting $95 million for safety and security enhancements, general renovations and improvements to aging buildings and campuses, accessibility, and new construction.

The bond package is split into two propositions: 

Prop A- $50,600,000

  • Career & Technical Education Building: 26,000 sf at potential new HS site; welding, auto tech, culinary, classrooms
  • AG Barn: 10 covered pens, 10 exterior pens; to be built at potential new HS site
  • Gonzales High School: Renovations, safety & security, accessibility improvements, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, roofing, paving infrastructure improvements, canopies, kitchen expansion
  • Gonzales Junior High: Renovations, safety & security, accessibility improvements, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, roofing, paving infrastructure improvements, canopies
  • Gonzales North Avenue: Renovations, safety & security, accessibility improvements, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, paving infrastructure improvements
  • Gonzales Elementary: Renovations, safety & security, accessibility improvements
  • Gonzales Primary Campus: Renovations, safety & security, accessibility improvements
  • Maintenance, Technology and Transportation: Renovations, additions, security, accessibility improvements
  • DAEP / Campus: Renovations, roofing, security cameras, accessibility improvements

Prop B- $44,480,000

  • Athletic complex with 7,000 seat artificial turf lighted stadium with eight-lane track, concessions, partial locker rooms, restrooms, parking, scoreboard, field events,
  • Baseball/Softball artificial turf fields, bleachers concession
  • 8 lighted tennis courts
  • Weight room

Not included in the bond is the construction of a new high school.

If approved, the bond would require a property tax increase of 15.27 cents per $175,000 valuation, which would mean an increase of about $114.53 per year.

For more information on GISD's bond election, click here.

Lago Vista ISD

Lago Vista ISD has called for a VATRE this November in order to generate additional revenue for salary increases and safety and security measures.

The VATRE was triggered when the district's board adopted a M&O tax rate of .6992 cents, which is higher than the rate set by the state of Texas. Voters are being asked to approve the higher M&O tax rate.

If the VATRE passes, the district's total tax rate will decrease from last year. The total adopted tax rate for 2023-24 is $1.0192 with the VATRE, which is lower than the previous rate of $1.184.

If approved, the VATRE will generate approximately $800,000 in additional revenue for the District's operating budget, which will be used for additional salary increases and safety and security measures across the district.

If voters reject the VATRE, LVISD says it will face a projected budget shortfall due to multiple factors, including an estimated $10.5 million recapture payment, discontinuation of federal funding programs, the Texas legislature's decision not to increase the basic allotment amount per student, unfunded state mandates, and rising operating costs due to inflation.

LVISD says if the VATRE doesn't pass, that budget shortfall will largely come from planned staff raises.

Even if the VATRE does not pass, the district says voter tax rates will still go down from the previous year. If voters do not approve the VATRE, tax rates will go down 16.5 cents per $100 valuation, instead of 18.5 cents.

Also on the Lago Vista ISD ballot is an election for Place 4 on the Board of Trustees between Brian Caller and Rich Railey.

For more information, click here.

Lake Travis ISD

Lake Travis ISD is requesting just over $143 million for a stadium bond package.

The bond package is expected to fund athletic facilities at:

Voter-approved high school #2

  • Football/soccer stadium complex (seating capacity for 8,000), scoreboard, lights, field house, restrooms, concessions, press box, parking lot, attached multi-use activity center (indoor turf), grass practice fields (with stadium seating), and locker rooms (including restrooms with showers) for UIL athletics
  • Baseball stadium, turf, restrooms, scoreboard, lights, concessions, dressing room for athletes, seating, press box and parking lot
  • Tennis complex (8 courts), lights, restrooms, dressing room for athletes, seating and parking lot
  • Track/auxiliary stadium, field house, restrooms, concessions, seating, press box and parking lot

Lake Travis HS

  • Renovation and improvements to baseball stadium, including installation of artificial turf, concession stand renovation, replacement of press box with film deck, and storage area
  • Installation of artificial turf at softball stadium
  • Renovations to Cavalier Stadium including additional permanent seating capacity from 7,400 to 12,000, new radio, television, public address, coaches, scoreboard operations rooms, film/observation deck, and installation of multipurpose turf fields
  • Renovations and addition to women's field house including locker rooms, restrooms, showers, coaches offices, team room, Athletics office and meeting rooms
  • New outdoor golf amenities with hitting bays, putting and chipping green and sand bunker
  • Track stadium - installation of new fencing, new multipurpose field turf, seating, and men’s fieldhouse millwork
  • All campus stadiums - LED lighting replacements and restroom renovations

Middle Schools

  • Replace athletic turf and track surface at each middle school
  • Additional locker room space, fields, and sound system replacement at Hudson Bend Middle School stadium

The district says if approved, the bond will not raise the school district tax rate, which is currently $1.0741, the lowest since the district was established in 1981.

For more information, including explainer videos, click here.

Lexington ISD

Lexington ISD is requesting a $51 million bond package for renovations and additions to campuses and athletic facilities.

The bond package is split into two propositions:

Prop A - $47,700,000

  • Lexington Elementary: 12 classroom addition, additional dispersed library space, controlled entry vestibule renovation
  • Lexington MS: 6 classroom addition, additional dispersed library space, science prep room renovation
  • Lexington HS: two regular classroom addition, two special education classroom addition, two science combi-CR/Lab addition, additional dispersed library space
  • Agriculture building renovation: reconfigured classroom layout, upgraded shop equipment, additional outdoor covered space, restrooms and air conditioning
  • AP Kleinschmidt Gym renovation and expansion: three gym floors with new bleachers, adequate locker room spaces, weight room, restrooms and showers, new parking

Prop B - $3,300,000

  • Track & Stadium: increase track to 8 lanes & resurface, new long jump pit & location, increase total seating capacity to 4,000, new lighting, new perimeter fencing

If approved, the bond will result in a net tax rate increase of 0.1846 cents from the 2022 rate of $1.0729 per 100 valuation. However, if approved alongside SB 2, LISD taxpayers with homestead market values of $450K and below should see a decrease in tax bills when compared to 2022 tax rates, says the district.

For more information, click here.

Lockhart ISD

Lockhart ISD is looking to offset a $710K budget deficit through a VATRE, which is projected to generate $3 million to increase staff pay and address unfunded school security mandates.

If voters approve it, the VATRE will decrease the school tax rate from $1.1123 to $0.9569, a savings of $496 a year for the average district taxpayer. If not approved, the tax rate will decrease to $0.9269, an average savings of $536 per year. 

The VATRE would enable voters to put three pennies back into the maintenance and operations part of the school tax rate and generate enough funds to provide raises for all employees and add safety enhancements to all schools, says the district.

LISD says it had to cut staff raises and free school supplies from the 2023-24 budget after funding gaps from the State of Texas left a $710,000 deficit.

LISD says county property appraisals haven’t kept up with the Texas Comptroller’s rising property value estimates, leading to a $3.1 million loss in state funding.

If the VATRE is approved, the district will have decreased its overall school tax rate by 38 cents since 2018.

For more information, click here.

Pflugerville ISD

Pflugerville ISD has called for a VATRE this November in order to generate an additional $10.7 million in funding and higher pay for all teachers and staff.

The district says it and many other districts are projecting funding shortages due to legislative inaction during the regular session, declining enrollment and declining attendance. PfISD is projecting a budget deficit of $2,941,088 for 2023-24.

PfISD also says it is now a "recapture" district due to a rapid increase in local property values and had to send $17 million in taxpayer dollars to the State last year.

The district says this loss in funding has forced it to make "hard budgeting decisions" over the past several years, including decreased staff budgets and positions and decreased student programs. PfISD officials say they have also contemplated closing and consolidating campuses and implement fees for student extracurricular activities.

If the VATRE is approved, the average PfISD taxpayer's tax bill is expected to decrease by $650 per year if SB 2 also passes. If not approved, the average PfISD taxpayer's tax bill will decrease by $831 per year. This $15 a month difference is expected to generate $10.7 million in funding for the district.

The current PfISD tax rate is $1.2646. If the VATRE passes, that rate will go down to $1.1092. If voters reject it, the tax rate will drop further to $1.0392.

For more information, click here.

Round Rock ISD

Round Rock ISD has called for the district's first ever VATRE in an effort to increase staff salaries and offset the loss of federal funding, increased recapture payments and inflation.

If passed, the district says it will be able to access the maximum amount of tax revenue from golden pennies, which is not subject to recapture. 

If approved, the VATRE would add $19 million into the district's operating fund, which RRISD says would be used to provide an additional 3% salary increase for all staff on top of already approved increases.

RRISD says this would bring the overall teacher salary increase to 6% and the overall increase for all other staff members to 5%. Funding these increases would cost about $21 million.

The Board also approved a tax rate of $0.9190 for the 2023-24 school year, but that rate depends on voter approval. The Board tax rate would be lower than the 2023-23 tax rate of $1.0626.

If voters reject the VATRE in November, RRISD says it will not be able to provide those increases due to financial constraints including: 

  • An estimated $77 million in recapture payments to the state
  • The discontinuation of federal funding programs
  • The Texas legislature’s decision not to increase the basic allotment amount per student
  • State mandates the district will have to allocate funds to meet
  • Rising operating costs due to inflation

In addition, if the VATRE does not pass, the district will face a $33 million deficit.

For more information, click here.

Schulenburg ISD

Schulenburg ISD is requesting a $19.5 million bond package to build a new performing arts center and sports complex

The bond package is split into two propositions:

Prop A - $12,290,000

  • Performing arts center: auditorium with a stage and audience seating, fine arts classrooms and space for practice, rehearsals and storage for the theater arts and band program, weight room, athletic offices, and boys and girls dressing rooms

SISD currently does not have an auditorium after the previous one was demolished in 2012. 

Prop B - $7,305,000

  • New 1,480-seat David Husmann Memorial Stadium: grass field; eight-lane track; light, scoreboard, and sound; press box; renovations to current fieldhouse for visiting team; restrooms and concessions; three lighted tennis courts; parking, drives and sidewalks; security fencing

The new stadium would be built on the same site as the current sports complex, which the district says is beyond its useful life and is no longer ADA compliant.

SISD says homeowners age 65 and older will not be impacted if the bond passes if they have filed for and received the Over 65 homestead exemption with the Fayette County Appraisal District.

SISD says that if the bond package passes, the estimated tax impact will be $68 less per month for homes valued at $250,000.

For more information, click here.

Waelder ISD

Waelder ISD is requesting a $6.926 million bond package. 

The bond package is split into two propositions:

Prop A - $5,826,000 

  • Remodeling the existing old gym, which cannot be used as a gym and is currently being used as storage, into a cafetorium which would seat all students in two lunch periods, provide a stage for the district for fine arts and theatre arts, and an auditorium for school and community functions
  • Middle school renovations and improvements: replacing of 17-year-old carpet, replacing leaking windows, providing a monitored fire alarm system, and other renovations and improvements
  • Classrooms for 5th and 6th grade students that would provide permanent classrooms, eliminate portable buildings, and save the district the annual cost of renting portable buildings, a savings of $76,222 per year
  • High school upgrades: replacement of 13-year-old carpet, an entrance safety vestibule, more efficient lighting, interior and exterior painting, and other building improvements

Prop B - $1,100,000

  • Renovate the open pavilion into a climate-controlled gymnasium that will serve as many as 14 different student groups that utilize gym facilities in the district
  • Total cost is $2.1 million with the district using current tax maintenance notes to pay $1 million toward the project

This is the third election cycle Waelder ISD had called for a bond election, and both previous measures were rejected by voters. In Nov. 2022, the district requested $13,745,000 and in May, the district asked for $10,300,000.

For more information, click here.