The Southside Independent School District board voted Wednesday night to seek voter approval on a $64.7 million bond package, about 15 months after voters rejected a $17 million bond package to expand and renovate facilities for extracurricular activities.

If voters approve the bond package on a May ballot, the money would go toward building two new elementary schools the district needs to accommodate future enrollment growth, Superintendent Mark Eads said.

The first school would serve as a replacement campus for Pearce Elementary and take $30 million to construct on land donated by Mission Del Lago.

Pearce is one of the district’s older campuses, Eads said, adding that it is located in the same area as Losoya Middle School and Southside High School, causing congestion during high traffic periods.

District officials projected Wednesday that the Pearce replacement campus could be built three miles north of its current location by fall 2022. The district could then repurpose and renovate the old Pearce buildings based on Southside ISD needs at that time. There would be no tax increase to fund the construction of the first new elementary, district officials said.

After the Pearce replacement campus is built, the board would have the discretion to use the remaining bond money to build a second new elementary campus in the Espada development. The Southside board could do this in 2023 or later, should the area’s population not grow as expected.

Using “conservative” numbers to estimate future property tax value growth and tax collection rates, district officials estimated the second phase of the bond could result in a 3-cent property tax increase to Southside residents. This increase would only go into effect when the second phase of bond construction was initiated, they said.

Southside ISD’s enrollment is just below 6,000 students but is projected to grow rapidly in future years as development spreads south of Loop 410. A representative from a demographics firm told board members Wednesday night the area will see 170 to 240 new home closings annually over the next three to five years. This housing growth will drive enrollment up, and Southside ISD is likely to enroll nearly 7,200 students by school year 2029-30.

Southside ISD’s enrollment is just below 6,000 students but is projected to grow rapidly in future years as development spreads south of Loop 410. Credit: Courtesy / Southside ISD

District voters last approved a bond package in 2017 worth $59.7 million for several projects including a fine arts center at Southside High School and Menchaca Early Childhood Center. Before the 2017 bond, voters hadn’t approved a bond since 2006.

In 2018, district voters rejected a bond that would have funded the expansion and renovation of facilities for extracurricular activities. Superintendent Eads took responsibility for the 2018 bond package’s defeat, saying the district took voter support for granted and didn’t do enough to communicate information to voters.

“We did not do our job, I did not do my job,” Eads said. “We just expected good things to happen. … People that were out saying negative things were actually doing more marketing than we did.”

The 2020 bond proposal is likely to be one of the last major action items of Superintendent Eads’ tenure. In November, Eads announced he would retire at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

The superintendent arrived in Southside in 2016, at a turbulent time. Months after trustees voted to hire Eads, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced the State would take over the district because the district’s governance was deemed dysfunctional. Morath told elected trustees they would be removed from power in favor of state-appointed managers.

The lame duck board supported Eads’ proposal for the $59.7 million bond package, which eventually passed with 53.6 percent of the vote.

Now, Southside ISD is back on the path to elected governance. Texas Education Agency officials told the district last May it would permit the district to be governed by elected trustees by May 2022.

The only community member who spoke Wednesday night during public comment asked the board to delay the bond election call until a new superintendent was in place and the community had more information.

Anita Reyna, a Southside resident and trustee elected in 2017 who has not yet served on the district’s governing board, questioned why the community didn’t receive any concrete numbers about the bond until Wednesday night, minutes before the final board vote.

“I don’t believe you have enough information to make an informed decision on this bond,” Reyna said.

Less than 15 minutes after Reyna spoke, the board voted to call the May bond election. Eads told the board earlier in the evening that the district would hold community meetings to educate Southside voters and residents on what would be included in the bond package.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.