As part of School Bond 2018, the largest school bond package put to voters in recent years, Northside ISD—the city’s biggest school district—has proposed the construction of four new schools on the far West Side to accommodate a continued uptick in student enrollment.
Northside ISD voters will go to the polls on Saturday, May 5, to decide whether to fund the almost $850 million bond package on the ballot. Early voting runs from April 23 through May 1.
The majority of the $848.9 million of bond proposal—about 67 percent—would fund renovations and upgrades at Northside ISD’s 119 campuses. About 33 percent of the bond package—$280 million—is earmarked for the construction of new schools: two elementary schools, one middle, and one high school, all on the far West Side, outside of Loop 1604.
Dotted with master-planned communities and new home tracts under construction, the far West Side has been tagged as San Antonio’s next high-growth area, and the numbers reinforce this. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the area’s population has ballooned. Between 2005 and 2015, the far West Side grew by 76 percent to almost 11,000 people, as recently reported by the San Antonio Express-News. From 2006 to 2016, the number of homes sold in the 78245 zip code, which includes the far West Side and areas inside Loop 1604, rose 68 percent, according to data from the San Antonio Board of Realtors.
Northside ISD schools, particularly in the high-growth Alamo Ranch development outside of Loop 1604, have felt the squeeze from the population boom. Northside ISD teacher and parent Emily Countryman, who formerly taught at Dolph Briscoe Middle School, said she experienced this squeeze first-hand when the Alamo Ranch-area middle school open in 2010 with 300 more students than anticipated. She saw the school use half of the campus shortly after it opened, and then grow to nearly overflowing.
“The growth is just mind blowing in that direction,” said Countryman, who now teaches U.S history and serves as the subject coordinator for the social studies department at Rawlinson Middle School. “[The bond] is absolutely necessary. They are just bursting at the seams.”
Northside ISD alumna Jaselle Luna has likewise observed exponential growth in the area of town where she grew up and has resided for the last 21 years. Luna attended O’Connor High School in Helotes when the school was only about four years old. Now, an Northside ISD parent herself, Luna supports the bond in its entirety so that the district can invest in its existing and future campuses.
“The development over the last ten years, and especially the last five years, is unbelievable,” she wrote in an e-mail. “New restaurants and retail stores have dominated Bandera Road outside of Loop 1604. Major traffic and congestion issues have forced constant construction to roads and highways.”
Now with its fourth large-scale bond project in the last 11 years, Northside ISD has been proactive to keep up with the population growth. Northside ISD voters approved large-scale bond projects in 2007, 2010, and 2014, totaling $1.8 billion. Those bonds added 23 new schools, as well as a transportation center, a swim center, and a tennis center.
As for the 2018 bond, Northside ISD has budgeted the following dollar amounts for these categories of projects:
- $280.3 million (33 percent): The construction of four new schools, including two elementary, one middle, and one high school. All together, the schools will add 301 new classrooms. The schools have been temporarily designated as “Village at WestPointe North area” Elementary School, “FM 471N area” Elementary School, “Kallison Ranch area” Middle School, and “Galm Road area” High School.
- $329.46 million (39 percent): Renovations and upgrades at existing Northside ISD campuses, including:
- $47.8 million for Jay High School’s fine arts facility upgrades, including new lighting and seating.
- $45 million for the creation of a public service magnet high school—Northside ISD’s sixth—located on the Marshall High School campus. The bond would fund the construction of a new building to house the magnet’s programs in criminal justice, health science, and government and public administration. The magnet’s building’s plans even call for a mock courtroom for students interested in law-related careers.
- $18.5 million to improve the gym, locker room and dressing rooms at Stevenson Middle School.
- $15.4 million for classroom replacements at Westwood Terrace Elementary School.
- $12.66 million to install synthetic turf at ten campuses, including at the Dub Farris Athletic Complex.
- $10.6 million for upgrades at alternative learning environments (ALEs) at four campuses.
- $3.3 million for upgrades for Rayburn Middle School’s fine arts facilities.
- $2.4 million for fire sprinkler system upgrades at elementary campuses, including Leon Valley, Knowlton, and Timberwilde elementary schools.
- $1.6 million for upgrades to O’Connor High School’s agriculture facility.
- In addition, the bond has earmarked funds for these other campus projects:
- Renovation of the cafeterias at Powell, Glass, Northwest Crossing, and Elrod elementary schools, as well as at Neff and Rudder middle schools.
- Renovation and expansion of the administration areas at Adams Hill and Leon Valley elementary schools.
- Renovation of the libraries at Glenoaks, Passmore, and Hull elementary schools, as well as Taft High School.
- Renovation of science labs at Hobby and Luna middle schools.
- Installation of shade structures over the playgrounds at all 79 existing elementary schools.
- $85.2 million (10 percent): Replace aging infrastructure on Northside ISD campuses and facilities, including chillers, boilers, HVAC systems, heating, ventilation, plumbing, lighting, energy controls, and electrical systems. The bond would also fund plumbing, paving, drainage, and flooring replacements. The district has highlighted these projects as priorities since more than half of its schools (55 percent) are at least 25 years old.
- $73.8 million (9 percent): Technology hardware deployments, such as providing two wireless laptops per classroom for student use at elementary schools, additional iPads and Chromebooks for student use in all Northside ISD libraries, and increasing the number of student laptops for middle and high school science classrooms. The technology portion of the bond also calls for the creation of language labs at 14 middle schools, wireless network improvements, cabling, wiring, and replacing all classroom digital projectors.
- $34.7 million (4 percent): Installation of safety and security features. Of the total amount, about $10 million has been allocated to build bullet-proof outer lobbies at 44 elementary school campuses. (Once complete, all Northside ISD elementary campuses will have such lobbies, allowing staff space to verify visitors’ credentials.) The bond proposal also would fund $16 million for video surveillance, server, and access control cabling.
- $20.45 million (2 percent): Re-roofing and waterproofing facilities at 14 campuses.
- $15 million (2 percent) – The purchase of 85 new school buses and 37 other vehicles (SUVs and mini-buses). Seventy-five of the new buses will replace older ones, which are typically retired after 15 years once they have driven 250,000 miles on San Antonio roads. The other ten new buses will be used to accommodate student growth.
Different stakeholders stand to benefit from various projects in the bond’s long list. For elementary school parents and teachers, anticipation is high about the shade structures to be installed over the playgrounds at all 79 existing elementary school campuses.
“Shade structures is one of the things that I’m most excited for,” said Countryman, whose daughter is a kindergartner at Blattman Elementary.
Currently, not all Northside ISD elementary school playgrounds have shade structures, and that led the faculty and staff at at least one campus to find a temporary solution.
“We all went on Amazon and bought solar umbrellas that have helped,” said Leah Gray, a second-grade teacher at Behlau Elementary, outside Loop 1604 between Potranco and Marbach roads. “We’re most excited about putting the shade structures over the playground equipment.”
Currently squeezed for space, Behlau Elementary is one of the schools affected by growth on the far West Side, Gray said, but the school will be getting relief in the fall when some of its student population moves to Mora Elementary, which is opening in fall 2018 as one of the new campuses funded by the 2014 bond.
With national attention and dialogue focusing on school safety, parents and teachers are reassured by another one of the projects in the proposed 2018 bond—installing security lobbies at 44 elementary schools at an estimated $10 million price tag. Previous bonds funded bullet-proof exterior lobbies at 30 campuses, so this proposal would standardize the lobbies at all NISD elementary school campuses and allow campus staff to confirm visitor credentials before entering the school.
“Nobody can come in until they’re checked,” Gray said.
Out of the bond’s proposed $73.8 million technology projects, one with an immediate impact to Rawlinson Middle School will be the addition of language lab.
“We have a lot of students taking Spanish, and it will also be beneficial to our ESL student population, which has grown by leaps and bounds,” Countryman said.
While some school districts like San Antonio ISD and North East ISD are experiencing shrinkages in their student populations (which, in turn, threatens state funding), Northside ISD has a robust and growing student population, mirroring the far West Side’s boom. Over the last 10 years, Northside ISD has grown by more than 20,000 students, according to a 2017 Northside ISD resource planning presentation. For the 2007–08 school year, Northside’s student population was 85,546. Now, in the 2017–18 school year, the number of students has swelled to 106,066, and is still expected to grow in the coming years.
For Gray, all this population growth that she’s seen as both a parent and a teacher solidifies her support for this 2018 bond, just as it did for her support of the three previous bonds.
“I have personally seen what they do,” Gray said. “I have seen three high schools go up in 14 years.” She added, “We have the most diverse group of kids . . . in Texas as far as culture and background.”
- School Bond 2018, Northside ISD
- “San Antonio home sales up 4 percent to start the year,” Ryan Salchert, San Antonio Business Journal, February 14, 2018
- “Developers ready for growth surge in far West Side,” Richard Webner, San Antonio Express-News, January 20, 2017
- “Schools Feed Uneven Growth,” Vianna Davila and Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, July 25, 2016
- “San Antonio Hosts a Community Conversation on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, January 11, 2018