The costs associated with renaming Tyler ISD's two high schools would be significantly lower if done during the ongoing renovations at both campuses, school board trustees learned during a workshop discussion.
That's because it wouldn't cost extra if the school signs are ordered by the October deadline for the new signs. But if the name change comes after that it could cost as much as $465,000 per school to order new signage.
However, it's unclear whether the board will put up for a vote the possibility of changing the name of one or both of the high schools.
The board reviewed the analysis of costs associated with a possible name change for Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools during a workshop Monday, but the item was for discussion only; no action was taken.
"I think we have a window here between now and October to gauge the want of the community," Board Member Aaron Martinez said. "We have an opportunity to show the community that we’re all inclusive. We educate every kid, regardless of what the cost is. We have to keep that in mind, that there are some kids who don’t appreciate it (the Lee High School name) and don’t like it. They haven’t for years."
Several board members questioned whether a name change was worth sacrificing goodwill with the community. Vice President Wade Washmon and Trustee Patricia Nation pointed to the community's support in passing the May 2017 bond package to rebuild the high schools.
Washmon also questioned whether the money associated with a name change could be better spent elsewhere. The cost of changing names and rebranding would come out of the district's general fund if not done during renovation.
"We’re making a decision that impacts more than 100,000 people," Washmon said. "Is it worth losing the confidence of our taxpayers?"
The $198 million bond package to substantially renovate the two high schools passed with 83 percent approval. A total of 7,731 residents cast a ballot in that election, a 9 percent voter turnout.
TISD trustee Andy Bergfeld said he is open to changing Robert E. Lee High School's name to Tyler Lee and the school not being named after a person, but noted that he had heard that naming the school just Tyler Lee was not enough of a change.
"I said, and still firmly believe, that I can understand why an African-American child would feel awkward going to a school named after a Confederate general," Bergfeld said.
However, he said it was also important to recognize that the history of Lee High School is important to many community members and graduates and said he is not certain the district can stand to lose the goodwill of those opposed to changing the name.
"I would say right now, I think there is timing for everything and I learned this with the desegregation order," Bergfeld said of the federal order the district was under from 1970 until 2015. "In 2005 we sat around the table and met with members of the community. It seemed to me we could advance academics better without it, but that’s not how the community saw it."
Trustee Orenthia Mason urged the board to make a decision one way or the other, saying the board needed to take a vote at a future meeting and move forward with whatever the result is.
The idea of changing the names of one or both of the high schools gained traction last year amid a national push to remove symbols of the Confederacy. Several school districts nationwide and across the state, including those in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, have changed names of schools that were associated with the Confederacy.
Opposing groups of community members brought the name issue up for discussion last summer, with more than 40 community members speaking at the first meeting, almost equally split on whether or not to change the name.
That prompted the TISD board to bring up a discussion of the matter in September, with many board members at that time signaling support for a name change. However, they indicated they wanted to put the issue aside until the current school year was over so as not to distract from the district's goal of academic achievement.
Since then, the group hoping to see the name of Robert E. Lee High School changed has continued to maintain a presence at monthly school board meetings.
During Monday's workshop discussion, some board members brought up where they felt the community stood on the renaming issue based on online polls and social media posts, among others.
Board President Fritz Hager reminded the board that they do not have the legal authority to put the issue to a vote within the community, but said any board member can request an item be added to a future agenda.
Martinez said he and Mason have submitted an item related to the name change, which could appear on the agenda for either the May 21 or June monthly meeting.
They can still alter or withdraw the request. Agenda items must be set at least 72 hours before the meeting.
Mason not available for comment after the board meeting.
Superintendent Marty Crawford led the board through costs associated with a name change broken down by athletics programs, fine arts and facilities.
The cost for athletic programs could run $250,000 per campus, which would cover equipment, uniforms, logos and branding if done all at once. The costs would be reduced over time if phased in with the normal cycling for uniforms.
The main cost for football would be away jerseys. Most of the home uniforms are branded with "Raiders."
With a phased-in transition, that number could be as low as $100,000, Tyler ISD Athletics Director Greg Priest estimated.
The fine arts estimate came out to $300,000 for each campus, if done all at once. That number includes band uniforms, which make up between $75,000 and $95,000. Band trailers and instrument cases also would need to be rebranded.
The facilities component was broken down into several pieces.
The cast stone names on the front of the buildings would be the largest cost.
Costs included shop drawings, manufacturing cast stone for signage and installation. Orders for those would need to be made by October or it could cost the district far more.
Director of Facilities Tim Loper said those items wouldn't cost the district anything extra if ordered before that October cutoff, so the district would need to decide on new names before the October deadline if it does opt for a name change.
If the district waits, the total cost could be $415,000 to $465,000 to order new signage for each of the high schools.
Costs to change logos at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, which is also undergoing renovations, would come to about $30,000 to remove the old mid-field logo and replace it. The signage at the stadium would cost about $3,000 for each school.