ROCKWALL, TX – September 30, 2021 — If you’ve ever been caught in the traffic backup on Yellow Jacket Lane near Rockwall High School around 8:30 in the morning, or tried to get to Heath on FM 3097 going past Cain Middle School and Pullen Elementary School at pickup time, then you’ve seen the impact of the increasing growth in Rockwall ISD.
But there may be hope in sight to relieve some of this congestion with two bond referendum packages addressing this issue on the upcoming Nov. 2 election ballot.
The Rockwall Area Chamber of Commerce recently welcomed presentations from Rockwall ISD Superintendent Dr. John Villarreal and Rockwall County Judge David Sweet on the two bond packages during a luncheon event at Lakepointe Church.
Rockwall ISD 2021 $475.8 Million Bond Referendum
Rockwall High School currently serves 3,000 students, with Rockwall-Heath High School at 2,900 students. Over the last 10 years, 3,000 additional students have come to call Rockwall ISD home, with more than 3,000 students predicted to come into the school district over the next eight to 10 years.
“It has definitely been a challenge,” Dr. Villarreal said of the enrollment growth.
The district is expected to see a 21 percent increase in its student enrollment in 2030. To plan for that growth, over the past four years Rockwall ISD brought together a Facilities Bond Committee made up of 60 community leaders, parents, grandparents, business leaders and educators to come up with the 2021 bond referendum. The committee extensively reviewed financial data, current academic needs and projected student growth, and came up with a $475.8 million bond proposal comprised of two propositions designed to impact every student across the district. In August, the Rockwall ISD Board of Trustees voted to approve the bond package to go on the ballot for the upcoming Nov. 2 election.
To manage the steady growth of the district, the Proposition A of the bond package proposes $459 million for new schools and renovations to current schools. This includes a new 9th-grade center going in south of Hays Elementary School and FM 1141 and a 9th-grade center on the Dr. Gene Burton College and Career Academy site. When those are complete, incoming freshmen at Rockwall High School will go to the new 9th-grade center near Hays, and incoming 9th grade students at Rockwall-Heath will study at the new 9th-grade center near the College and Career Academy.
“That would give us about eight to 10 years based on the current demographer’s projection on growth,” Dr. Villarreal said. “If we’re serving about 1,000 kids at each of the 9th-grade centers, we don’t anticipate more than 850 kids in the next eight years. That would be a senior class, so to speak. So we think that’s a good plan.”
According to Dr. Villarreal, the demographer predicts that Rockwall ISD will double its enrollment growth at buildout. So in the next 20 to 30 years, districtwide enrollment is expected to be around 36,000 students.
To address the growth at the elementary level, the bond referendum proposes remodeling the middle school level to accommodate 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.
“At the middle school level there’s a design academically that will serve our kids better. Sixth graders all can learn at higher levels and have access to more experiences in school. They can get more experiences if we take them to middle school, where they have daily opportunities to be in orchestra or band or advanced academics classes.
“We’re already doing advanced academic math where students across 16 campuses are getting on a bus over to the middle school to be served in Pre-Algebra, so they’ll be ready for Algebra in their 7th grade year. We’ve grown this program so that all of our kids have an opportunity to advance faster and learn at a higher level.”
A brand-new middle school facility is proposed in the bond to help relieve the enrollment congestion at Cain Middle School, which frequently sees a backup of traffic along FM 3097 during pickup time after school.
In addition, a replacement Rochell Elementary School is proposed to be built on-site for one of the oldest schools in the district.
Proposition A would also allow the school district to purchase new buses to maintain a safe and modern fleet for students.
This proposition would allocate $16.9 million towards updating the district’s technology, purchase new computers and Chromebooks, provide interactive media displays and enhance Wi-Fi connectivity for classrooms. The goal with this proposition is to allow schools to handle the additional usage which will come from future student growth.
Technology with a short lifespan will only be funded using short-term bonds, and bonds will be issued only as projects come online so that the district can be mindful of how it utilizes taxpayer dollars.
What it means if both bond propositions are approved by voters
If voters decide to approve both propositions, the anticipated impact on the property tax rate is estimated to be less than a penny. Homeowners ages 65 years and older won’t see any increase to their property tax value if they have filed for their senior citizen homestead exemption.
Rockwall ISD completed its 2015 $256 million bond package on time and under budget, which included six new facilities built in a five-year period. Five of those new facilities included new elementary schools. The district was also able to achieve this while keeping the lowest tax rate it has had in 31 years at $1.27 per $100 property valuation. The financial diligence of the district for that bond ended up saving taxpayers around $90 million through bond refunding.
Rockwall County TRIP2021 Bond Referendum
Rockwall County Judge David Sweet presented info on the Rockwall County Transportation Road Improvement Program (TRIP) 2021 bond package to help alleviate traffic throughout the county and accommodate future growth.
Rockwall County sits at the sixth fastest growing county in the nation over the past 10 years. The recent 2020 Census showed that the county grew by nearly 45 percent, and the county’s annual growth since 2015 has been around five percent. Currently 110,000 people reside within Rockwall County and that number increases to around 200,000 at buildout.
The TRIP2021 bond proposition includes 32 different road construction projects throughout the county. Among those includes the widening from two lanes to four lanes of SH 205 from North John King Boulevard to Downtown Rockwall, SH 205 South from two to four lanes from John King Boulevard to Kaufman County, and widening SH 205 from two to six lanes in the portion starting at East Ralph Hall Parkway and ending at South John King Boulevard. For a complete list of the projects visit rockwallcountytrip21.com/.
Map from rockwallcountytrip2021.com.
To prepare the bond package, Rockwall County worked with each of its communities to identify road projects most critical to their residents. They then met with NTCOG and TxDOT to identify which of those projects had the best potential for partnership in leveraging, and on Aug. 10 the Commissioners Court unanimously authorized the list to be presented on the 2021 road bond package.
Rockwall County’s financial advisors estimate the maximum tax impact from this 2021 road bond to be five cents per $100 valuation, but Sweet said the Commissioners Court is committed to fiscal responsibility so that there’s no impact to taxpayers if they approve the bond. In 2004 Rockwall County voters approved $17 million in road bonds and $100 million in 2008, with no impact on taxpayer dollars resulting from either bond package.
“We won’t issue this debt until it’s needed, until we’re on the same page with our partners from TxDOT and the North Texas Council of Governments,” Sweet said. “We will be in complete control in working with our partners in terms of how we’ll issue that debt if voters approve it. The plan would be a $30 million issuance, and then increments of $20 million every two years.”
To date, Rockwall County has utilized the proceeds from the previous two road bonds to fund and construct more than $1 billion in roadway projects throughout the county.
The Rockwall County Road Consortium meets on the third Wednesday of every month at the historic courthouse on the Downtown Square, and is made up of representatives from each of the county’s municipalities along with members of the Commissioners Court, representatives from TxDOT and NTCOG, and the county’s transportation consultants. During meetings they discuss all of the current and future transportation projects happening throughout the county. To get the latest information on road projects in the county visit rockwallcountytexas.com/279/Road-Consortium.
“I’m proud to be part of a group of elected officials and administrative officials that understand that we’ve had a lot of growth, and the importance of this bond in coming up with solutions to get the facts out there to voters and trusting them to be able to make those decisions,” Sweet said.
Early Voting in Rockwall County is Oct. 18-29 at the following locations:
Rockwall County Library
Fate City Hall
Heath City Hall
Royse City City Hall
Election Day is Nov. 2, and with the county participating in countywide polling folks can vote at any of these locations on Election Day, regardless of which precinct they reside in:
The Center at Rockwall City Place
Ernest Epps Education Center
Fate City Hall
Gene Burton College & Career Academy
Heath City Hall
McLendon-Chisolm City Hall
Our Savior Lutheran Church
Rockwall Area Chamber of Commerce
Rockwall County Library
Rockwall Golf & Athletic Club
Royse City Hall
By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.
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