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TISD board considering May bond election

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FROM THE TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH:
 
TISD board considering May bond election
By Emily Guevara
eguevara@tylerpaper.com

The Tyler ISD board of trustees will consider calling a May bond election Thursday during the regularly scheduled board meeting.

The bond proposal draft is a $160.5 million package that would affect elementary, middle and high school students.
It would provide funding for the remodeling of Rice and Dixie elementary schools; the construction of three new middle schools, two of which would replace existing campuses; and the construction of a career and technology education center to serve students at both high schools. 

"This is really a good package and a good plan to bring forward for May," TISD Superintendent Gary Mooring said during a meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph editorial board last week. 

The 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. 

The proposal draft comes after months of board discussions and input from the community. 

The last bond election in November 2010 ended in defeat, albeit narrowly. TISD regrouped and spent more than a year involved in a long-range planning process. 

Through that process, the district came up with almost a half a billion dollars worth of facility needs, and it has been a multi-month process to prioritize which of those to address first in a bond package. 

Proponents of this draft proposal said it 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 districts more than 18,000 students. 

"When you can affect 8,000 to 9,000 students, that bond makes sense," said Mark Randall, president of Tyler Proud, an organization formed last fall to support the school district and a bond package. "On top of (that), the fact that these facilities need to be updated and then the advancement of the technical school …, there's a lot of this district that is going to be affected."

Opponents of this package have said the district is not ready for another bond election. TISD must first address academic underachievement, campus discipline problems and a lack of teacher support. 

"We simply cannot afford to put old problems in new buildings," Rick Eisenbach of Grassroots America — We the People and the "No More Excuses TISD!" Coalition said during the district's January board workshop. "You've done that in the new elementary schools, and the system in place is failing these children while they sit in expensive, brand new schools." 

Under a previous master plan, the district intended to complete work on all TISD schools through four bond elections held throughout 12 years. They would address the elementary schools in the first two followed by middle schools and specialty schools in the third, and high schools in the fourth.

With the 2004 and 2008 bond packages, the district replaced 11 elementary schools with new schools and added Jack Elementary School. 

Leftover bond money allowed for the remodeling of Birdwell and Owens elementary schools and Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy already had been remodeled and added onto. So, only Rice and Dixie remained. 

Mooring said community members saw that initial commitment to complete work on all elementary schools first as a pledge the district needed to follow through with. This bond proposal would do that, he said. 

By remodeling Rice and Dixie at their existing locations, the district would save $20 million compared with building new. 

The students would attend school in the existing buildings while the remodel is taking place, similar to the process at Birdwell and Owens. 

For the middle schools, TISD would build a new Boulter and a new Moore at the existing locations. 

A new middle school also would be built in southwest Tyler on land behind FRESH by Brookshire's between Old Jacksonville Highway and Old Noonday Road.

This school would help reduce student populations at some of the other TISD middle schools, all of which have portable buildings. 

The new schools would be larger, with a functional capacity of 1,000 students. This is in keeping with the district's long-range plan, which calls for it to shift from six to four middle schools by 2020. 

Operating fewer, larger middle schools allows the district to save money in operational expenses and offer more academic and extracurricular programs at these campuses, Mooring said. 

School board President Michelle Carr said having one middle school in each quadrant of the city also would create clear feeder patterns, which is not the case right now. 

"There's a lot of efficiency and collaboration that can be done when we have clearer feeder patterns," she said. 

The final piece of this bond proposal draft —— and the one that has received the most widespread support —— is the career and technology education center. 

It is slated to be a modern facility that would provide high school students the opportunity to learn workforce skills and practice them in an environment that mirrors the working world. 

Students who plan to work straight out of high school and those who are college bound would benefit from these programs, district officials have said. 

If the bond is called and passed, TISD will expand its criminal justice, culinary arts, welding, engineering and health science programs in this center.

It will add cosmetology, graphic arts, audio/video production, computer maintenance and networking, automotive collision and repair and energy programs, Ms. Parnell wrote in an email. 

TISD already has career and technology programs at both high schools, but with one school designated for these programs the district could offer better facilities designed for the curriculum and stop duplicating programs at the high schools, Ms. Parnell wrote. 

The district already has put money down on 25 acres of land near Tyler Junior College's West Campus for the facility. 

The school district is working closely with TJC to ensure both entities can take advantage of what the other has in terms of workforce education and not duplicate services. 

Mrs. Carr said a big part of this career and technology center is about increasing student engagement. 

"(Students are) used to things moving so fast and being engaged at a totally different level," she said. "And so that's the other part of this is just really trying to engage kids. And whether they want to go on to college or not (it's) to give them something that really motivates them and it's something that where they can use these 21st century skills that they've developed over time."

The center also is expected to reduce the campus populations at both high schools because it will pull students off of the main campuses for at least part of the day. 

Students would attend Lee or John Tyler for the majority of their academic work and extracurricular activities and go to the career and technology center for those classes.

The district is planning for about 400 students to use the center in the first year, but it will be built to serve more. 

Mooring said the building will be designed with the ability to add on to it should the district need more space or want to make it a stand-alone high school in the future. 

"We're looking at making sure we have (a) facility that can be expanded for growth," Mooring said. 

Mooring and Mrs. Carr said if implemented this bond proposal will help to make schools more secure and better suited for today's technology, which in turn will make it easier to recruit and retain quality teachers.

Ms. Parnell said the new learning facilities would allow the district to offer enhanced curriculum and technology to better prepare students for the workforce or continued higher education. 

"We feel that the community is concerned with (the) space, safety, and limited technology that our current campuses are able to provide," she wrote in an email. "We want to provide our students with 21st century learning environments that are designed to attract and engage students, and we feel that our community supports us in that decision."

However, members of the "No More Excuses, Tyler ISD!" coalition do not see new buildings as the answer to improving students' growth academically. 

"The evidence is clear that merely passing school bonds to build new schools does not deliver high academic results for all students in Tyler ISD," read a statement released by the coalition when announcing its formation. "Passing bonds to build new schools does not build character, nor does it build strong educational or moral foundations for all children." 

The Tyler ISD board of trustees is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Dr. Jack L. Davidson Conference Center in the Jim Plyler Instructional Complex, 807 W. Glenwood Blvd. 

Among the many issues to be considered during this meeting, the board is scheduled to vote on whether to call a May bond election. The board meets in executive session at 6 p.m.

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