TISD bond gets support of Chamber committees

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - The Tyler ISD bond proposal cleared the first of three hurdles toward gaining an endorsement from the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce.

In a joint meeting, two chamber committees decided to recommend to the Chamber's executive committee for consideration to support the bond proposal. The Wednesday meeting included the chamber's governmental affairs committee and the education and human resources committee.

The executive committee will make a decision about whether to recommend support of the bond issue to the chamber board, which could then vote on it at a meeting later this month.

TISD has called a $160.5 million bond election for May 11. If approved, the money would fund the renovation of Rice and Dixie elementary schools; the construction of three middle schools: Boulter, Moore and one in southwest Tyler; and the construction of a career and technology center.

Mac Griffith, chairman of the education and human resources committee, said several issues came to the forefront of the committee's discussion prior to making the decision.

First, the bond proposal can be funded with the existing TISD tax rate. Second, he said, there is overwhelming evidence that the district needs more brick and mortar facilities, considering there are 164 portable buildings spread among TISD campuses.

"The other thing that I think you heard a lot about here is that the new facilities that would be built would address a lot of the security concerns that the people have in today's environment," Griffith said.

Prior to the joint committee's decision, TISD Superintendent Gary Mooring, as well as representatives from organizations which support and oppose the bond proposal, made presentations.

Mooring spoke about the bond proposal plans, the age of district facilities, the number of portables, and the district's solid financial status, among other issues.

He said the district has done well about knowing when to refinance past bonds and pay off debt early. This has helped create the situation where the district can take on additional bond debt without raising the existing tax rate, he said.

JoAnn Fleming, representing the No More Excuses, Tyler ISD! Coalition, which opposes the bond package, said the district must address academic achievement, campus discipline and attendance zones before building more facilities.

She cited a state comptroller's report that placed TISD in the bottom of half of the 41 school districts it was grouped with when measuring the relationship between district spending and student achievement.

"I ask you, what would it say about me as a community leader if I ignored this?" she said after sharing data from the report. "I simply cannot do it. My organization cannot do it."

She said other state data shows the district is performing below the state and region in college readiness measures, in math and English language arts.

The community must face these facts, especially if the community wants to produce college and/or workforce ready graduates, she said.

Passing a bond proposal won't deliver high academic results for all TISD students, she said. The district is not producing consistent academic results and two of its high schools are academically unacceptable, she said.

"This is unacceptable to us, and I maintain it should be to you," she said.

Representatives from Tyler Proud, which supports the bond package, outlined reasons it should support the bond proposal.

The reasons included that it will require no tax rate increase; that the proposed career and technology education center will prepare students for jobs after high school; that it would reduce the need for portable buildings; and that it would create more secure campuses.

Tyler Proud spokesman Mike Starr said good things are happening in TISD, and many parents are pleased with the district's direction and leadership.

He said the district's on-time graduation rate has increased, and its high school dropout rate has decreased.

"Tyler ISD is making progress," he said. "Is it all the progress that all of us as community members and parents would like? No it's not."

Still, he said, the district can continue to address its challenges while upgrading facilities.

"You are being presented by the opposition with a false choice in this campaign," Starr said. "Their position suggests that you cannot both address academic and other challenges of the district and build desperately needed facilities at the same time. That is a false premise. It's incorrect. We can and, as a community we should do both at the same time."


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