Providing space to accommodate potential student population growth and provide equal opportunities for all students are two repeating points behind the Midlothian ISD's proposed bond package.
Voters will decide on a proposed $268 million bond during November's election. The bond package includes $208 million growth management projects, $38 million for athletics and sports fields renovations and $22 million for technology, security and capital needs, according to the district's bond information website. Early voting begins Oct. 24 and Election Day is Nov. 8.
Approximately 75 percent of the bond, if it is approved, will go toward managing the increasing number of students entering the district each year, said MISD Superintendent Lane Ledbetter.
“We are growing in student population and the city is growing,” Ledbetter said. “From our standpoint, we have to plan on projected data.”
According to Ledbetter, that projected data includes 5,000 more students attending the district by 2026, for a total of approximately 13,000. MISD's current enrollment is more than 8,100 students, he noted, which is up 2,250 students from the 2006 enrollment.
The influx of new students will require classrooms, access to computers, libraries, sports opportunities and the best learning environment possible, Ledbetter said. However, he also stated that the district has a responsibility to students attending the each of the current 11 campuses to maintain equal access to new opportunities and secure buildings.
Ledbetter explained that the way budgets for school districts are required to be set up in Texas, it does not allow MISD the ability to budget all maintenance and campus improvements to meet the newest campus' standards of opportunity. For example, Ledbetter used the differences between Dolores McClatchey Elementary School and other, older elementary campuses.
But the district cannot build new schools that are behind the innovation curve and expect to keep the district's students learning the skills needed after they graduate.
“This will help the rest of the campuses catch up,” Ledbetter said. “Other principals have tried to do flexible desks and other ideas, this will give them money to expand their ideas.”
Projects listed in the bond include construction of elementary school No. 8 and No. 9, middle school No. 3 and Heritage High School additions, as well as renovation or repurposing of current facilities including Irvin Elementary.
Technology, campus and safety projects include classroom technology that enhances learning, technology infrastructure and upgrades including 21st-century learning spaces at all schools, student and staff security improvements, mechanical equipment replacements and roof replacements.
Athletic and sports field renovations include construction of Midlothian High School field house, renovation of middle school competition fields, the addition of offices at MISD Multi-Purpose Stadium and repurpose of Don Floyd Stadium into a baseball/softball complex.
If the bond passes, many projects could be taken up at all campuses over the life of the bond, said Ashley Stewart, assistant superintendent for leadership, innovation, and planning.
“Every campus in every part of the district was assessed for needs such as renovations, basic maintenance and capital upgrades. The bonds will pay for basic servicing, where needed, like roofing, flooring, electrical, heating and cooling. The bond proposal also includes projects to make campuses safer by providing improved lighting, fire alarms, sprinkler systems and security cameras. It is important to note that, if approved, the bonds will fund 21st-century learning spaces at all campuses and classroom technology that enhances learning,” Stewart said.
The timing of the different campus updates, athletic projects and new building construction will depend on the district's growth, the dollar amount of bonds the state rating system will allow them to issue in a given year and the priority of needs across the district, Ledbetter said.
“There are some things in the technology and athletics that need to occur sooner than later,” he said.
The priorities and order of completion will be set by the school board with input by the school staff, said MISD Board of Trustee President Todd Hemphill.
But the school district is also looking at ways include community members in the bond spending process as it included community members in committee that recommended the bond and the stratigraphic plan that guided it, Stewart said.
“The MISD Board of Trustees turned to a 40 member Growth Management Committee for guidance in developing the bond package. Comprised of parents, grandparents, business owners, teachers and community leaders, the committee used the district’s Strategic Plan for direction,” she said. “We are looking at appointing a Citizens Oversight Committee to make sure the right projects are done at each school in the most responsible manner possible.”
The district is not publishing estimated budget amounts for each project to prevent long-range complications with the bond's execution, Ledbetter said. The total bond amount was derived from calculating the costs for each project, organizing a possible timeline and then including the cost of inflation into the projections, he said.
But those estimations could vary widely from the actual value depending on when the district completes each project.
“Those could flux $5 million to $10 million based on when it is built,” he explained. “But if we published those, they would become the budget for that project and that might not be right. People will hold you to those.”
For those worried about a slowdown in growth would leave the district high and dry in bond debt, Ledbetter said the district does not have to issue bonds if the district can't afford it.
“If growth doesn't come, we will not build these schools and we won't sell the bonds so we won't be in debt,” he said.
The district is planning that an increase in tax revenue will fund repayment of the bonds without having to raise property taxes, he said. As more residential and businesses developments like are built, property values will go up without the district raising the tax rate, Ledbetter said.
“There are two separate pieces to the taxes levied by MISD. The Debt Service tax, sometimes called Interest and Sinking tax, is used to pay the long-term debt for building facilities. These funds are dedicated to debt retirement and cannot be used for any ongoing operation costs,” Stewart explained. “The Maintenance and Operations tax, sometimes called M&O, is used to pay for the day to day operations of the district including salaries, electricity, supplies, fuel, etc. The amount of funds generated by the M&O tax levy should also grow with the increasing tax base to help pay for the growing student enrollment. State funds, based primarily on student enrollment and local tax effort, should also grow to supplement the local tax revenues.”
In fact, the district tax rate for Interest and Sinking tax at 50 cents per dollar of property value so the district cannot raise it any farther, Ledbetter said.
“There are a lot of these pieces that could be done right away while facilities may be 2 or 3 years down the road,” he said.
The bond is expected to last for 5 to 6 years, Ledbetter said but could stretch out for as long as 10 years if the economy slows down too much.
While recognizing this bond would be the largest MISD bond ever approved if it passes, the district has a track record of responsibly handling money and bonds, Stewart said.
“The district recently saved over $1 million in interest by paying off the 2006 bond referendum years ahead of schedule. The district has also implemented debt management strategies that have saved our taxpayers $35 million. It’s these kinds of proactive moves on behalf of our taxpayers that has earned MISD a “Superior Achievement” for twelve consecutive years in the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas,” she said.
The school board and staff have already cut the originally proposed $320 million bond down the $268 million bond because their advisers informed them they would not be able to afford to spend the full $320 million within the time frame the bond is hoped to last, said trustee Carl Smith.
— Contact Bethany Kurtz at 469-517-1450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BethanyKurtzMidloMirror or on Twitter @bethmidlomirror.