Dallas ISD shocked the state earlier this month when it announced “the largest bond request in Texas history.” Now, another school district is raising eyebrows with its own record-breaking ask.
On Monday, San Antonio ISD trustees voted to send a mammoth $1.3 billion bond package to voters in November. Its enormous size easily earns it the dubious distinction of being “the largest school or municipal bond proposition in San Antonio history.”
This marks the third time in 10 years that SAISD officials will ask voters to approve more debt. In 2010, the district approached voters with a $515 million bond and it was back again in 2016 with a $450 million bond. Voters approved both.
Not surprisingly, San Antonio ISD’s appetite for borrowed money has made it one of the more deeply indebted districts of its size. Among 10 similarly-sized districts, SAISD’s tax-supported debt outstanding ranks as the fourth highest in total ($894,329,988) and the third highest per capita ($17,646 owed per student), according to the Texas Comptroller’s Debt-at-a-Glance.
Curiously, all of this excess is happening against the backdrop of cratering student enrollment. From 2008-09 to 2017-18, San Antonio ISD’s student population shrank by a whopping 6.8%. That decline is expected to continue, albeit at a somewhat slower rate. According to SAISD’s fiscal year 2020 budget: “By 2024, the membership for SAISD is projected to be approximately 47,000, a decrease of roughly 330 students per year over the next five years.”
In other words, parents and students have fled the district for the last 10 years and the exodus is likely to go on for the next five years. In contrast, Texas’ overall student population is booming, experiencing a 13.1% increase from 2008-09 to 2017-18.
All of this raises two important questions: Why is a shrinking school district, deep in debt, asking voters to approve a historically large bond package? And is now really the right time?