As residents begin the process of choosing how they will vote on the school district's $268 million bond referendum this November, two long-standing school board members are offering some points for consideration.
The board voted to put the bond on the Nov. 8 ballot at a special called meeting Aug. 17. While exact language for the bond is not yet available, the bond is based on recommendations from the district's growth management committee. The committee was made up of forty volunteers including parents, grandparents, school personnel and business leaders from across the district community and presented their recommendations at the July 18 meeting.
“We will soon have a dedicated bond website with more details,” said Jana Pongratz, director of communications for the district.
The reason the board and district are asking for this bond goes back to the root of the district's purpose, said board of trustees vice president Matt Sanders.
“The school board and the administration have the responsibility to educate every child in our district in a safe, secure and quality environment,” he said.
Growth seen across the district is the driving force behind the growth, both trustees agreed.
“We are experiencing the growth that most of us knew would come at some point. The overall goal is to manage it properly,” Sanders said. “The growth management committee looked at a strategic long range plan so that our district could handle this growth in a responsible manner.”
The $268 million bond is a lot for voters to consider, said board of trustees president Todd Hemphill.
“It is the largest bond the MISD has ever gone out for, that is a fact,” he said.
But there is a lot of work that needs to be done around the district including campuses that need to be updated and new opportunities that need to be available to be made all students, he said.
“Something you will hear a lot during this is every child, every campus,” he said. “We have a new elementary this year that has a lot. What you see in McClatchey is the latest and greatest in collaborative spaces and the best of technology. Part of this bond is bringing all our campuses up to that level.”
The district opened its seventh elementary school campus, McClatchey Elementary School for the beginning of this school year. Other campuses have been operating for a long time, notably J.R. Irvin Elementary which opened in 1954.
Getting the entire district on the same level will take renovations on the buildings themselves as well as the technology, teaching tools and programs offered inside, Hemphill said.
The growth management committee suggested a wide range of construction projects, campus updates and added technology.
The original bond proposed by the Growth Management Committee at the board's July 18 meeting was for a $320 million amount. Facility projects included construction of an eighth elementary school, a third middle school and finish phase two of Heritage high as well as renovations to current buildings. Recommended improvements to sports facilities and to increase technology and campus safety rounded out the original bond proposal. That proposal was slimmed down for the currently proposed bond.
If the bond is approved, the district will not be able to cash in the entire bond at once, Hemphill said. The district is only allowed to issue a certain amount of bonds each year based on its financial standing and bonds it is already paying on.
If passed, the board and district staff would prioritize items on the list and evaluate the district's bond capacity. Projects would be started and financed as they were needed and affordable, Hemphill explained. If the bond passes, he expects all projects would be completed or at least underway within five to seven years.
“Time does erode what that money can actually buy,” he said. “We will complete the bond package as quickly as possible but don't have the capacity to do it all now, all at once.”
But having the bond already approved by voters allows the district to be more flexible in responding to increasing student enrollment numbers and needs, Sanders said.
“Normally, a district waits until a facility is needed, goes out for a bond, and if it passes, builds the facility. That process could take up to three years. By having this bond pass, we would then have the ability to construct a facility in a more timely fashion,” he said.
And that is important, given the enrollment predictions the district is receiving, he said, offering several points to consider.
“One: out of 81 school districts in DFW, Midlothian ranks 17th in new home starts. Two: under our current projections, eight of our 13 campuses will be over capacity in 2020. Three: there are over 1,200 lots under development in MISD right now,” he said.
At that rate, every student, teacher and administrator will be feeling the pinch soon, he said.
That is why the district, through the growth management committee, took such a deep look at the district's needs, Hemphill said.
“What is very different about this bond is it will truly touch impact every student on every campus. Usually, a bond is done for a specific and immediate need. We not only are building new buildings, but every existing building will have funds put into it to be on a level playing field,” he said. “Every kid will benefit from greater opportunity in the classroom or on the ball field.”
And the board members are committed to spending any bond money responsible, Sanders said, just like they watched McClatchey Elementary School's budget.
“The first bid came back at $25.5 million, $5 million more than our budget. So we worked together with our architect and construction team, and currently, we look to deliver the project on budget at $20.5 million. These taxpayer budgets are not carte blache,” he said. “I take spending taxpayer money very seriously. I always take in as much factual information as possible to make a decision. This is what I ask of our voting public is to look at the facts and not so much the dollars and cents.”
The bond amount is derived from educated estimates for each item, Hemphill said, but the actual amount for each project will vary.
“We will go out for bid on everything and we would love to come in below that number,” he said.
With the housing and business growth in the district, district staff believes the bond should be paid for in the increased property tax revenue generated by the growth, Sanders pointed out.
“It is human nature to always want to go back in time to a favorite chapter of our life, a possibly happier, simpler time. I remember having one stop light, the DQ, and David's supermarket. But most of us did not make the decision to sell off our land to a large housing developer. And it is perfectly fine that they did. But we are not in that time anymore and it would be irresponsible to continue to look backwards as these issues are here and now and will not be going away,” Sanders said.
“I hope everyone looks at this bond in a positive manner and sees that I, along with others, are trying to treat this decision just as our community does with many parts of their life. Make a solid plan and execute.”
The election will be Nov. 8 with early voting running from Oct. 24 through Nov. 4.
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.