Robinson resident Cameron Whyburn knows the city of 11,600 needs a new junior high school. He graduated from Robinson High School in 2004.
But the 33-year-old pharmacy technician believes the Robinson Independent School District needs to pay off its debt before asking voters to approve a $31.5 million bond to overhaul the current junior high school, and most voters in the May 4 bond election agreed with him.
Almost 1,220 voters cast ballots against the bond issue in the May 4 election, five years after passing a $19.5 million bond to build a new intermediate school. Just 535 people voted for the bond this year.
The 2014 bond package passed only after two failed attempts, in 2011 and 2013.
The school district would have used the bond money to update its multi-building junior high campus, erected in the late 1960s, that serves students in seventh and eighth grades. The plan included significant new construction, demolition of a classroom wing and renovation and repurposing of original buildings that would remain. The bond also would have paid for expansion of the high school agricultural facility.
If voters had approved the bond, Robinson ISD would have the second-highest amount of debt among school districts of its size, according to the state comptroller’s website. Wimberley ISD, outside San Marcos, has the most debt with $62.3 million.
Robinson ISD has $23.7 million in debt. The district will pay off a 2005 bond series in 2024, according to its 2017-18 financial report.
That is the soonest Whyburn would be willing to vote for another bond package. Proponents of the bond issue have said waiting would cost the district even more money because construction costs would increase, placing Robinson ISD in more debt.
The district could lower its expenses considerably by paying off one of its outstanding bonds before securing more debt, said Michael Granof, Ernst & Young Distinguished Centennial Professor in Accounting at the University of Texas. He compared it to buying a car.
“The analogy would be a car payment and you want to buy another car,” Granof said. “If you buy another car, you’d have two payments. If you wait until the first car is paid off, you would have only one payment.”
But Granof said he could not say whether the school district could afford to go into more debt, whether that would be sound financial policy, and he did not know how great a need for a new school there is. He also said interest rates are at an all-time low right now.
“They’re not going to be lower,” he said. “That’s a pretty good bet.”
Whyburn said he understands the need for a new school, but the failed bond issue would have been just a “Band-Aid” solution. In five years, Robinson ISD could build a brand new school instead of doing significant construction on the 50-year-old junior high campus, he said.
“It has to be addressed, but it’s just not the right time or the right plan,” Whyburn said.
Robinson ISD board member Kevin Kenny said the school district would get the “best bang for our buck” by renovating most buildings with the bond.
“It’s really not something we can wait on,” Kenny said. “It needs to get done so we can secure our school. I doubt anything would happen in Robinson, but we just don’t know.
“Every time you turn around, there’s a school shooting.”
The junior high campus is comprised of multiple buildings connected by open-air corridors. The bond package would have paid for construction to enclose those corridors and build a front office where visitors would have to check in.
But Whyburn said he does not see how that construction would make the school safer when the biggest threat to students is school shootings, which are usually perpetrated by students.
There were two school shootings in recent weeks, in Colorado on May 8 and at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on April 30.