Citing the need to improve the educational environment for students, the Tyler ISD board of trustees called a May bond election.
In a 6-0 vote, the board called for the $160.5 million bond proposal to go before voters May 11. Board member Shirley Jordan was absent.
The schools wouldn't open until fall 2015, but construction would begin within three months of a bond passing, according to district information.
This bond proposal could be funded without raising the existing TISD tax rate of $1.375 per $100 valuation. This is because the district is paying off about $5.5 million in existing bond debt each year, spokeswoman Dawn Parnell wrote in an email.
This bond election comes more than two years after the last one, which narrowly was defeated at the polls in November 2010. After that defeat, the district regrouped, holding a series of meetings throughout more than a year to come up with a long-range plan.
Through that process, the district came up with almost half a billion dollars worth of facility needs, and it has taken multiple months to prioritize which of those to address first in a bond package.
Supporters have said this bond proposal is good because it would complete work on the elementary schools; start work on the middle schools, which would help relieve overcrowding and improve security; and provide a career and technology school for high school students, affecting many of the district's more than 18,000 students.
“We are here to see the success of the children in Tyler because what we do know is great schools equal a great community,” Mark Randall, president of Tyler Proud, which supports the bond package, said during the board meeting.
Opponents have said although new facilities are good, academic deficiencies and discipline problems on campus need to be addressed first.
“This is not about trying to deny people good facilities that's not what it's about,” JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America – We the People and a member of the No More Excuses, Tyler ISD! Coalition, which opposes the bond proposal, said during a news conference Thursday morning. “It is about being for support for teachers and support for students all across this district to get a good education so that they can compete in a very harsh competitive world.”
SETTING THE STAGE
Many of more than 50 adults and children who gathered wore Tyler Proud T-shirts and held signs with the message “It's time.”
Randall said the Tyler Proud organization supports this bond proposal because of what it would accomplish for the community.
He said the organization desires to see strong academic achievement among all students in the district, and sees facilities as a component in achieving that goal.
TISD parent Courtney Burlison, who was among the Tyler Proud group, said passing this bond would improve teacher and student morale.
“I believe that they will want to be better because they will have the support that they need to be there for our children,” Ms. Burlison said. “They just can't teach 21st century concepts in antiquated buildings with antiquated tools.”
During the board meeting, 11 people addressed the trustees about the bond issue. Some spoke in favor of it. Others opposed it.
Some said they were concerned about the plans for the future of A.T. Stewart Middle School, which, if the bond passes, is slated to be repurposed, according to the district's long-range plan.
Others said they want to see more academic success from students, more freedom given to teachers when it comes to instruction and more time spent addressing what they see as the problems in the district before building new facilities.
“The buildings are not the answer,” Shera Helms said. “If students can't read, bless their hearts, they have no hope, no future. Without discipline, there is no learning.”
M.G. Adams said the idea of no tax rate increase is misleading.
“Bonds always equal taxes,” he said. “We're going to have to pay that $160 million plus interest if you vote for it.”
Cedrick Granberry, a TISD parent and No More Excuses coalition member, said during a news conference Thursday that he supports students and teachers having the best facilities, but he wants to see a reorganization of priorities.
“What good does it do to have a brand new home but the refrigerator's empty?” he said. “It doesn't make any sense. New schools don't teach children. Good teachers and stable administration teach children and we feel here in Tyler that we need to raise the bar. We feel that these issues are very important. ”
Board vice president the Rev. Orenthia Mason said the district has to improve the learning environment for students, and that means providing well-constructed, secure buildings.
Trustee Brad Spradlin said the bond proposal reaches the largest number of students at all school levels. It will help the district reduce costs by eliminating the duplication of career and technology programs at both high schools. And it will allow TISD to keep its promise to the community to finish the elementary schools.
“This board that I have seen is very committed to moving this district forward and addressing issues,” he said. “And we are in there working and we want a great Tyler and a great Tyler ISD.”
Trustee Eleno Licea said he supports the bond proposal and the whole community should, too, because of the different segments of the community that will benefit.
“I really do believe that this vote on this bond is something that will move us forward,” he said.
Trustee Therelee Washington said many TISD graduates have gone on to be successful professionals in this community and beyond.
“A lot of people came up here and … you talk like nobody's doing anything, that this is just a dead system, you're wasting money by building buildings,” Washington said. “I can tell you one thing; somebody made a comment about, 'a building (doesn't) make a school.' Well, I would like to go to your house and see how it looks, whether or not you do any remodeling to it.”