Even before early voting for McKinney ISD’s $220 million bond package, a clear dividing line was drawn between supporters and opponents.
That line? The $50.3 million portion allocated for a new multipurpose stadium and event center. Take that 12,000-seat item out – or even make it its own proposition – and seemingly both sides find common ground.
They agree most, if not all, of the other projects are important or even necessary.
But, alas, they’re all part of a single proposition. Vote for the entire proposition, including the stadium, or vote against it. District officials haven’t shied away from their decision to bundle the districtwide improvements with what’s been really the only contested item.
“We believe … that all of these projects are of equal importance,” Superintendent Rick McDaniel reiterated last week, referencing teachers, administrators, the school board and committee members. “Not one item we can afford to say, ‘We can do without that one.’”
Yet, it’s one item that essentially forced the division – the recent formation of two separate political action committees: the pro-bond “Vote FOR McKinney’s Future” and the anti-bond Grassroots McKinney.
Larry Pereira, the former group’s treasurer, said in a recent statement released by the PAC that the bond’s passage would be “a win for the city of McKinney and for McKinney’s kids – both present and future generations.”
The latter group decided the bond isn’t a win as long as it includes the proposed stadium – among other less significant reasons – and describes themselves as “concerned citizens with the stated purpose of promoting accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility in local McKinney government.”
Much like when residents and stakeholders put up signs around downtown urging voters for or against the city’s bond proposition for a proposed parking garage, the two groups have marked voting-booth territory with their message.
Grassroots McKinney member Curtis Rath has been very public about his protest to the stadium and to the district’s bond process. He called the situation “the most ugly, divisive bond proposition I’ve ever seen.”
He and others are touting the dividing point as the most expensive stadium in Texas history. With about $10 million in land purchases for the stadium site at McKinney Ranch Parkway and Hardin Boulevard, $12.5 million in previously approved bond money and the proposed $50.3 million, the facility’s total cost sits around $72.8 million.
Indeed, that’s pricier than Allen ISD’s $60 million Eagle Stadium, which has 18,000 seats and would sit a few miles away across U.S. Highway 75. Katy ISD in the Houston area, another perennial high school football power, is looking to build a new $62.5 million stadium that would have 12,000 seats like McKinney’s proposed facility, according to a recent Houston Chronicle report.
Mike Giles, a leader of Grassroots McKinney who’s been vocal during the city’s and school district’s respective bond elections, said the proposed stadium is little more than “a showpiece” for the district and city.
But McKinney ISD officials say not so fast on the numbers pushing: Eagle Stadium’s publicized cost typically doesn’t include land purchases and other soft costs, and it was built several years ago, so inflation has since forced up construction costs, officials contend.
In summary, according to the district, the comparison isn’t, or shouldn’t be, apples to apples.
And, McDaniel emphasized, the community first backed a new stadium 16 years ago with their approval of the $12.5 million in bonds. But some have brought up low attendance at football games at Ron Poe Stadium, or at least turnouts that don’t warrant such a large facility.
McDaniel is confident that with better access to the stadium than spectators have at Ron Poe – three access points opposed to one – and more parking, as well as a much improved “overall experience” with the event center – people will fill the stands.
“How do you predict how many people will show up to a game when they have a place to park?” he asked, guaranteeing the experience at the new stadium will trump that at Ron Poe.
Bond opponents say the district could be more prudent with its money, particularly with short-term enrollment growth projections staying relatively steady – a recent MISD demographic study showed growth at about 71 new students per year for the next five years, opponents noted.
Still, aside from the stadium, opponents’ biggest contention is to the Project Kids committee. They say the bond drafting process should have been more thorough and included a better sampling of the community. There should have been more public input, Rath said.
The 103-member committee met several times for “long hours” to determine which projects would be part of the bond proposal, McDaniel said, stressing the group’s objectivity in reaching a consensus. McKinney ISD Chief Financial Officer Jason Bird called the committee “far larger” than many bond committees in neighboring districts.
“It wasn’t just hand-selected ‘Yes’ men,” the superintendent explained.
Early voting totals showed significantly better turnout – nearly double by the third day – than in 2013’s tax ratification election, when voters approved a 13-cent tax rate hike. The district aims to reduce that by 4.5 cents with or without the bond’s passage.
Much of that hinges on the proposed stadium – the dividing line that will undoubtedly sink or swim the entire bond package.
If it sinks, the district could hold another bond election as soon as November.
“That’s to be determined,” McDaniel said. “The needs don’t go away.”