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11-cent tax hike pays for buses, new high school, other facilities
At the same time as South Texans choose their local government leaders in municipal and school board elections Saturday, May 7, voters in La Salle County will decide whether to allow Cotulla ISD to issue a $65 million bond for extensive construction projects and facilities upgrades.
The list of priorities for the district runs the gamut from new buses and other vehicles for the student transportation fleet to an entirely new high school.
School administrators are quick to note that bond revenues will not be spent exclusively on a new campus and that district-wide upgrades will be made, including renovations to tennis courts, modernization at other campuses, and construction of new agriculture science and shop classrooms.
The list also includes a new district auditorium whose primary purpose will be classroom instruction and essential administrative operations for faculty and staff. The building will also be capable of hosting concerts and other events for crowds larger than can be accommodated in the existing Betty Avant Cafetorium.
“I am excited that Cotulla ISD voters have the opportunity to voice their opinion about the bond projects that the school board has declared,” Superintendent Ruben Cervantes said of this weekend’s election. “We hope for a good turnout.”
The school superintendent is prevented by law from promoting the bond sale or attempting to persuade voters how to cast their ballots.
The school district has pinned its hopes on voters approving the bond sale, as facilities that will be upgraded or replaced have passed their life expectancy.
The present Cotulla High School campus was built at the end of the 1970s to resemble a junior college, with classrooms grouped in separate buildings around a central landscaped open space.
While considered modern at the time, the 43-year-old campus is no longer regarded suitable for 21st century educational needs and falls short in other respects, according to the district.
“The current layout of the high school poses a safety and security concern for students and staff,” district administrators wrote in a prepared statement. Staff have also indicated that fixtures and fittings at the campus – notably the air conditioning systems – are outdated, can no longer be repaired and must be replaced.
If construction of a new high school is approved, it will replace the existing buildings while students are temporarily accommodated elsewhere. Available classroom space during construction includes the former Frank Newman Middle School and former Ramirez/Burks Elementary School, both of which have been vacated since new campuses were built.
Cotulla ISD held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in December 2021 for its newest campus, the elementary school positioned between North Main and North Baylor streets, built at a cost of $25 million.
Saturday’s election ballot outlines the district’s goals with the bond funds but also includes the statement “This is a property tax increase.”
The Texas Education Code (Section 45.003 (b-1)) requires Cotulla ISD to add the statement at the end of its ballot proposal.
The increase will be in the district’s ‘interest and sinking’ account and represents approximately 11 cents annually per $100 of appraised value.
The majority of the bond debt will be covered by revenues from mineral taxes, as Cotulla ISD sits above the oil and gas fields of the Eagle Ford Shale. District administrators have indicated they believe those mineral revenues may continue for as long as 15 years, the same as the projected debt-repayment period.
Taxpayers will, however, bear some of the cost of the school debt if the bond is approved. Owners of a property valued at $75,000, for example, can expect to pay approximately $4.54 more on their school taxes each month, or $54.48 per year, after a homestead exemption. Those age 65 and older or those with disabilities who have filed for the appropriate exemption will see no tax increase related to the $65 million bond.
“Homeowners will only pay approximately two percent of the total bond issue in 2023” if the debt is approved, according to the district in its prepared statement.