After a year of long-range planning and months of pondering, the time has come for some decision making.
The Tyler Independent School District board of trustees is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to call a November bond election.
The meeting, which will begin at 5 p.m., is open to the public and will include a time for public comment.
It comes almost two years after the board called its last bond election, an $89.85 million proposal, which failed narrowly at the polls.
After the defeat, the district spent one year developing a long-range plan which outlines facility needs and some programmatic changes to be accomplished by 2020.
A bond election now would be the first step toward implementing some of those projects. But the delicate job of creating a proposal that appeals to a majority of TISD voters is one they must face if they are to move forward.
Key components of this plan are the construction of new John Tyler and Robert E. Lee high schools, a new advanced technology and career center, and new Rice and Dixie elementary schools.
The plan also calls for a grade reconfiguration with the creation of four fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate schools and four seventh- and eighth-grade middle schools.
Three projects have come to the forefront for a possible bond proposal this year. They are the advanced career and technology center, a new southwest Tyler middle school, and a new Boulter Middle School.
Three board members who spoke with the Tyler Morning Telegraph last week — president Michelle Carr, vice president the Rev. Orenthia Mason, and trustee Eleno Licea — said trustees are, for the most part, in agreement that these projects are priorities.
It's what else to add, if anything, that becomes the question.
There are some financial constraints guiding the process as well.
The district can support a bond package up to $150 million with the current tax rate of $1.375 per $100 valuation, Mrs. Carr said.
That means if they don't want to raise the tax rate, they stay within the limit.
The three projects on the short list — a career and technology center, a southwest Tyler middle school and a new Boulter Middle School — would cost about $97 million combined.
However, when it comes to high schools, it's a different story.
TISD cannot build two new high schools unless it raises the tax rate.
Building new John Tyler and Lee schools would cost an estimated $170 million combined.
And if TISD started with the high schools, it would automatically have to add at least one more project to the bond proposal, a career and technology center.
Because the district doesn't want to duplicate services, the career and technology center has to be built before or with the two high schools so the schools don't have to have those facilities.
Weighing the Options
“I'm sure that will be part of what's addressed at the meeting on Monday,” she said. “In a good economy, in a perfect world, I think a lot of people would like to see the high schools go first, but that requires a tax increase and (some people) think (that) will be voted down.”
“We want to be financially conservative,” she said. “We want to be prudent and so it's balancing what does that look like?”
Board vice president Rev. Mason said the comments she has received from residents support the construction of the career and technology center, a new southwest Tyler middle school and a new Boulter Middle School.
She said some people would like to see the district complete new Rice and Dixie elementary schools.
“We're just in discussion stages and we all need to understand that there is a need to continue to improve education facilities for our children in Tyler,” Rev. Mason said.
She said she doesn't see it as a problem if the board decides to call a bond election while an interim superintendent is leading the district.
“It's not a thought of mine … because the board has to decide the direction the school district is going in and that's why the citizens of Tyler elected us, to make sure we're making sound decisions for their children's educational future …” she said. “School district business must go on. We can't put what's best for our children on hold. We have to continue to move forward.”
She said although what goes on inside the school building dictates the students' achievement level; there is no denying that new buildings promote an enthusiasm among students, parents and teachers.
Trustee Eleno Licea said the message he is hearing from residents is to move forward based on the long-range plan the district has in place.
He said the principles guiding him through this decision-making process are the same ones highlighted throughout the long-range planning process: support academic progress and create financial efficiencies.
“To simply replace schools is not what we need to be doing,” Licea said. “How's this going to help us in the classroom, and No. 2, how's this going to help us in the pocket book? And if you keep those two in mind, I'm willing to move forward and make concessions, but I'm never willing to do anything that would set the school district back.”
Licea said the worst move the district could make would be to do nothing.
“My mind is not made up,” he said of calling a bond election. “But, I think most of the board have fundamental pieces … that we're all in agreement (on), but I think we're going to have to wrestle (with) the smaller pieces that are much more manageable.”
Trustees Andy Bergfeld, Shirley Jordan, Brad Spradlin and Therelee Washington could not be reached for comment.