The debate has started among Tyler ISD board members as they work to consider what bond proposal is most likely to find favor with voters.
TISD administrators have been considering November for the next bond election after an $89.9 million bond proposal failed at the polls in 2010.
Superintendent Dr. Randy Reid along with six of seven board members met Monday to discuss the district’s long-range plan and how parts of that plan could fit into a bond proposal. Trustee Shirley Jordan was absent.
TISD trustees said they are aware of the challenges ahead and the opposition they could face from the electorate, so they are trying to determine the best path to a successful bond election.
“Right now in this economic climate, school boards are an easy target …” trustee Andy Bergfeld said. “Getting the community behind it is important to me and I think it should be to us.”
In February, the board approved a long-range plan that outlined facility upgrades and some programmatic changes through 2020.
However, this plan doesn’t have nor was it intended to have breakdowns for specific bond packages.
The questions now are how much is the community willing to support and what projects does the district want to present first?
Board president Michelle Carr said the general consensus from the board is that the high schools need the most work and, in an ideal world, they would get done first.
However, the district cannot do the high schools without also building the career and technology center. This is because the high schools are going to be built without career and technology facilities that will be included in the center.
Packaging those three projects together would cost more than $200 million, a price tag the board believes the community is not ready to swallow.
If that is the case, then the next question is what needs to be done that the community will support? And that’s where some board members disagree.
With that in mind, board members presented several ideas for possible packages on Monday.
Bergfeld said he sees the middle schools as a good place to start because of the space constraints at the existing Hogg, Hubbard and Moore campuses.
He suggested a bond package that would include building a new middle school in southwest Tyler, a new Boulter Middle School and a new Advanced Technology and Career Center.
He also suggested renovating Rice and Dixie elementary schools as a way of saving money at those campuses and capitalizing on the fact that some portions of those campuses are not very old.
Trustee Eleno Licea saw a different route. Licea said the district should address the high schools first because those will affect the most students.
However, he also wants TISD to move as quickly as possible into its new grade configurations with fifth- and sixth-grade centers. That would mean working on some of the middle schools and possibly some of the remaining elementary schools.
“We’ve got to start really moving the needle academically,” said Licea, who viewed the fifth- and sixth-grade centers as a way of doing that.
Mrs. Carr’s proposal was similar to Bergfeld’s except instead of renovating Rice and Dixie she suggested renovating Stewart Middle School. That school would serve as the new home for PACE and Plyler, which are the district’s dropout prevention/recovery and disciplinary alternative programs, respectively.
She also supports the idea of using bond funds to complete maintenance at the high schools if those campuses are not included in the first bond proposal.
Board discussion also addressed the need for unity on the board and the methods of gaining community support.
Licea said he expects at least 40 percent of voters to come out against any bond package TISD proposes just because. He bases this assumption on the outcome of Tyler Junior College’s $25 million bond election on May 12.
In that election, 55 percent of voters voted for it and 45 percent of voters voted against it despite the fact that there was no organized opposition group.
Licea said TISD should expect much the same with 40 percent or more of voters supporting its bond package and another 40 percent voting against it. He said the district must focus on the 20 or so percent of undecided voters.
Bergfeld disagreed with that assessment, citing previous TISD bond proposals. In 2004 and 2008, 65 percent or more of voters supported the district’s bond proposals.
Bergfeld said the district needs to build relationships with the community so the community builds support for this bond package.
He suggested the district present the community with more than one bond package option and obtain feedback before determining a final bond proposal.
Trustee Brad Spradlin said the community is looking for direct, concise and strong leadership from the seven board members and the superintendent.
“I think that we as the board have to come out very strongly that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Board vice president the Rev. Orenthia Mason agreed.
“My thing is all of us need to be on one accord,” the Rev. Mason said. “We’re going to have to work on relationships with all segments of the community and be forthright.”
Reid said he will synthesize the information presented during the meeting and send it back to board members.
The board must call a bond election in August if it wants to hold it in November.
Although Licea suggested Reid come up with the package himself after the board gives a price tag, Reid said he preferred otherwise.
“This needs to be something that this whole group is solidly behind because I can’t pass that big a bond myself,” he said.
The board has a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the Dr. Jack L. Davidson Conference Center in the Jim Plyler Instructional Complex, 807 W. Glenwood Blvd.
Although they are not expected to address the bond package issue as a whole, they are scheduled to vote on an option to purchase property for the proposed Advanced Technology and Career Center.
Reid said the district is considering a 25-acre lot and with board approval would put money down on the lot. However, purchase would be contingent upon the bond passing.