Guest post by Tom Michero
Surprisingly, McKinney is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., yet its student enrollment has been flat for 10 years at 24,000. Meanwhile, nearby Frisco has one of the fastest-growing ISD in the nation and currently enrolls 67,000 students. Why is that? The answer has enormous implications for the McKinney Independent School District and involves whether or not voters pass the airport bond on May 6.
Frisco’s enrollment success is due to families moving to Collin County and choosing a school district with a top-notch performance record. Most rating agencies rate the FISD half a grade higher than MISD. Families choose the Frisco ISD because of its outstanding reputation for academic excellence, innovative programs, and wealth of extracurricular opportunities and experiences.
Frisco has businesses and institutions that attract parents with high academic degrees who instill in their children a desire for higher education. More than 65% of Frisco adults have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. These highly educated parents represent a tremendous earning power. This higher income level is reflected in Frisco’s higher home values and active retail and cultural environment. This kind of economic activity is the engine behind FISD’s growth. A city that attracts employers looking for workers with the type of advanced education found in high-tech, finance, medical, teaching, engineering, and design will have a vibrant school district.
McKinney lags Frisco in attracting educated workers by 22%. Only 51% of the adults in McKinney hold Bachelor’s Degree or higher and that number is likely to drop if McKinney spends $200 million to pay for the proposed McKinney airport expansion. Much attention has been given to the “economic impact,” with some estimates as high as $1 billion annually. That number is certainly optimistic, but what is certain is that the airport will be attractive to cargo carriers and easily surpass any passenger service the airport generates.
The MISD will experience the economic impact from the airport expansion in two phases; construction and operational. The construction phase of the airport expansion expects to draw two to three thousand workers to the city. The airport will take about two to three years to complete creating an influx of students before the MISD sees any revenue generated by the airport. Later, in the operational phase, the area around the airport will become a distribution depot for companies like Amazon and Fed Ex. Supporting businesses will follow that include warehouses, distribution centers, moving equipment suppliers, aircraft service firms, trucking services, and economy hospitality. To understand what is coming to East McKinney, one only has to look at the environment around Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport.
Businesses that airports attract do not, for the most part, need workers with higher degrees nor offer high pay. Families with parents in these fields will have relatively lower incomes and will seek affordable housing. Developers will, no doubt, be there to develop apartments and housing that match their lower incomes. The median home value in McKinney is 22% lower than in Frisco. The correlation between education, home values, and the resulting tax revenue can’t be ignored. A better educated community produces a better funded school districts.
Companies attracted by McKinney’s airport expansion will make it difficult for the MISD to grow academically. Instead, the district will need to focus its resources on technical training to meet the needs of its student body. The lack of academic focus (along with a lower paying job-market) will ultimately diminish McKinney’s housing and retail activity. This shift in economic activity will leave the MISD with less money, fewer students, achieving less academically.
An enlarged airport will bring industrialization to McKinney and continue to make Frisco, Plano, and Celina more attractive to families. When that happens, the MISD will experience declines in enrollment and McKinney’s reputation for being a desirable place to live, work, and play will spiral downward.
Teachers, trustees, parents, and other stakeholders in MISD’s future should consider what the airport bond actually means for them. If voters pass the airport bond on May 6, the district should prepare to address the needs of a growing trade-oriented student environment and doing this with less available funds. The MISD stakeholders would do well to Vote No on the airport bond and ask the City Council to adopt policies that attract businesses and enterprises that make McKinney a desirable and culturally vibrant place to live, work, play, and LEARN.