Article Image Alt TextArticle Image Alt TextArticle Image Alt Text

CCISD superintendent discusses proposed high school expansion and funding



Cove Leader-Press


In a Wednesday afternoon interview, Copperas Cove Independent School District Superintendent Joe Burns talked about the proposed expansion of Copperas Cove High School as well as proposed upgrades at district campuses.

In discussing a second high school, which some in the community are calling for, Burns said that it is not feasible to put that up for a bond election.

“I understand people's desire, and I tell you if money were not an issue, and I think everybody would love to have a brand-new high school, but it's just not something that we have the capacity to do right now,” Burns said.

Burns said Copperas Cove doesn’t have the financial capacity to pay for a new high school. School districts in Texas have a dollar limit to how much they can tax in bonds.

“Your ability to generate revenue is based upon the taxable value of your school district, and how much money you could generate from taxes for money used to build facilities,” Burns said. “The state has a cap of 50 cents. You cannot tax at a level higher than 50 cents on the interest and sinking side of your budget.

“And what we could get for 50 cents in Copperas Cove ISD is about $200 million…it is different for each district.”

The district’s financial advisor said that “a new high school starts at about $225 million and can go up to $275 (million) or higher. And that doesn't include any athletic facilities, any property purchase or any CTE facilities, so all of those would be in addition.”

Burns also said that he was at a regional superintendents’ meeting on Wednesday and was talking with the superintendent of Salado ISD, discussing that district’s recent bond election. The new high school at Salado will have a capacity of 1,000 students and the cost is $180 million.

Burns also said there is also the matter of staffing another campus and duplicating all the instructional and other services the campus provides to students.

“A second high school is out of reach for us. It's beyond our ability to tax and pay the debt on it,” Burns said. “You still have things that have to be done in the existing high school like the electrical upgrade, other things like that. If you build a second high school, about 20 percent of our district budget is for staffing at Copperas Cove High School.”

He said that even a campus of 1,500 students or so, the district would have to spend about $2 million a year on maintenance and operations side of the budget to staff it.

“You may be able to build something with that $175 million, but it wouldn't be sufficient to serve that population.”


Possible state funding toward project

Should the bond pass, Burns said that the state could chip in a chunk of funds for the project.

“The state has a program called Instructional Facilities Allotment Funding. The state legislature allocates a specific amount of money each biennium to help the districts that are considered property poor districts needing needed financial assistance, to help them offset the cost of bonds.

“To get into the program, you have to have a successful bond. The second thing is they stack you with all the districts that apply, stacked in order by property wealth per pupil. They take your total taxable value of your school district and divide it by the number of students that you serve and they calculate property wealth per pupil.”

School districts are ranked according to the ones with the lowest wealth per pupil at the top. Districts qualify if they pass a successful bond, so it would all depend on what other districts in Texas pass bonds, as to where Copperas Cove ISD would be ranked in the process by the state.

“The nice thing about that is once you qualify for it, then you qualify for that amount as long as your numbers stay the same. You qualify for that amount throughout the life of the bond.”

Burns said that the potential for IFA from the state can be as much as 30 percent of the project funding.

“There's not many places where you can go and buy something and then cover 30% of the cost of whatever that is that you're buying, especially over the over the life of the loan.”

The District could see as much as 30 percent from the state, but that would remaind to be seen.


Using fund balance for building a new school

Some have called for the district to use its fund balance toward those projects. The fund balance is sometimes called a “rainy day fund” or “savings”.

Burns said that the district has put $50 million into campus renovations and upgrades since he has been superintendent, and at one point, the fund balance was $39 million. It was also as much as $93 million at another point. But, the district has fallen out of its heavy Impact Aid over the past years.

As per the district’s most recent annual audit report for the 2022-2023 school year, CCISD’s fund balance stood at a combined of $69 million, a decrease of $7.55 million from the prior year. According to the audit, the reason for the loss is due to “an increase in construction projects and repair & maintenance. The district had increased expenditures in the area of staffing, substitute teachers, and extracurricular activities.”

The district has $37,955,704 committed to construction expenses in that fund balance. It also has $24,622,411 unassigned in its reserves.

Burns said that the district is required to have 90 days of operating expenses in that account. A good $5 million each month goes just for staff salaries. Also, the board of trustees’ policy is that instead of 90 days, the district maintains 120 days of operating expenses in its fund. In short, those funds can’t be used for anything else.

The district is also looking at upgrades to six campus playgrounds, Burns said. That cost is about $250,000 per campus. Multiply that out by each campus, and it tops $1 million that will be spent on district campuses that have not had their playgrounds upgraded already.

Also, the district has a $1 million deductible for insurance, which it must take into account such as when one campus had a water leak and suffered water damage. It came in around $1 million, so instead of filing a claim, the district paid for the repairs out of its reserves.

He submitted a document, titled Voter Education Key Messages, which breaks down the $175 million in funding by campus.

The largest chunk of that goes to the high school expansion, for $121.6 million.

The high school campus project is a multi-year one.

Safety and security upgrades at campuses, to include enclosing the outdoor breezeways at Clements-Parsons Elementary, make up $5.2 million of the bond.

Renovations at Fairview-Jewell Elementary School amount to $12.9 million.

The new restrooms and renovations at Copperas Cove Junior High School are $750,000.

With the bond calls for $175 million total, the basic cost of the entire proposed project is around $151 million. The remainder of that amount is the annual anticipated increase to costs, Burns said. The roughly $20 million in addition is considered “cost escalation” during the construction time of the proposed project.

“We’re adding 55 classrooms to the high school, and that project is going to take probably at least two years because they're building a building with kids in it. Event with a brand-new school, you would have about a two-year project from the time you develop plans, engineering, break ground, it's going to be about two years before you can open it.”

As far as the timeline goes, should the measure pass in May, the bonds would go out for sale in late summer 2023. Architectural schematics have been paid for by the district in the planning process, but additional work would need to be done for those projects.

Burns said that no engineering work has been done yet for any of the projects.

“There would be some pieces that would be chipped off quickly. One of the things that could be started with is the softball field and tennis court relocation, and the addition of the high school cafeteria would come pretty quickly, because that has to happen for the other pieces to start.

“I think we would see the enclosed corridors at the three elementary schools happen pretty quickly. I believe those would be some of the things that would be shovel ready, fast, and come in a pretty tight timeline.”



Copperas Cove Leader Press

2210 U.S. 190
Copperas Cove, TX 76522
Phone:(254) 547-4207