School board members receive valuable input
from former trustees on bond issue
by Kevin Hamilton
Iowa Park CISD Board of Trustees held a special called meeting Monday night at the W.F. George Middle School library to discuss school facility improvements.
The meeting was also attended by several former trustees invited to offer their advice and perspectives on a range of options to upgrade all campuses in the IPCISD system. Former board members present included Keith Fisher, Randy Catlin, Robert Wilcox, Dennis McCarthy, and Rex Wells.
Board president Steve Fairchild opened the meeting by thanking the former trustees and others in attendance for being on hand to discuss possible future facility improvements. “This is kind of an unprecedented and impromptu meeting, but we thought we needed to get everybody’s input,” Fairchild said. “This is certainly something we want the community’s input. You former trustees have been down the road we are on. We are looking for feedback – positive or negative – we need to hear it. We want what is best for our community and our kids.”
Fairchild then offered bullet points on history of the current school facility proposal:
• In 2005 the IPCISD Board of Trustees began a strategic plan as a means to create and communicate a vision of school improvement to the community. Facility improvement is included in the plan. No bond is planned in this process, however, local M&O (Maintenance and Operations) funds are used to make marked improvements;
• In 2006, the Texas State Legislature passed legislation that compressed IPCISD’s M&O rate by 44-cents per $100 property value. Funding to be made up by the state failed to appear. Facility improvements by M&O are greatly reduced;
• In 2008, a School Facility Advisory Committee was formed to study facility conditions and needs. After extensive study and on-site review over a period of months, the committee submitted recommendations for improvement of facilities. “Three of those on that original committee now serve as board members,” Fairchild pointed out;
• In 2009, board members reviewed proposals, selecting Secord and LeBow Architects of Wichita Falls to present models and cost estimates to address those recommendations from the advisory committee;
• Also in 2009, the cost estimates provided by the architects amounts to above IPCISD’s legal bonding capacity (if everything on the list was addressed). Alternatives are developed and discussed;
• In 2010, a community-wide questionnaire is deciminated in order to receive community input. Results of the review indicated community support for those improvements;
• In 2010, a bond initiative is put on hold pending the outcome of the current legislative session in order to access potential state/school funding reductions;
• In 2010, the current district debt is re-funded to take advantage of lower interest rates, resulting in significant interest savings. The bonds will be retired in 2019;
• In 2011 to present, the bond initiative is brought back for discussion with a target date of May, 2012 to place it before the patrons of the district.
“Ladies and gentlement, that is where we are at right now,” Fairchild said. “The amount that we are seeking is up in the air. We have no concrete amounts. The total address package — if we did everything on that wish list, which is in no way indicative of what we want – is from $28- to $30-million.
“We’ve all kind of come back and forth with some numbers, and we are thinking somewhere from $12- to $15-million will address all our immediate needs.”
“What do you qualify as immediate needs?” asked Catlin.
Fairchild answered, “When you go to all the campuses, we feel the high school needs addressing from an outside point of view ... from the people seeing it. There are some safety concerns at the stadium. The junior high possibly needs some girls and boys locker rooms in the gym. Bradford really is probably our ‘shining star’ campus. Kidwell, the front area needs air conditioning.
“I guess the majority of the money is going to be at that high school and the stadium.”
Superintendent Jerry Baird then expounded on “immediate needs.”
“When we talk about immediate needs, we are still going to continue to have school. We can have school wherever we are at,” Baird noted. “This (facility planning) committee put in a lot of time. We began the process to hopefully impart a vision — the board’s vision with the community’s – as to what this school district needed, not only from an instructional standpoint, but from an instructional facility standpoint.
“When Steve read out the timeline, there has been just a tremendous amount of work put into this. The board has backed off of it two or three times,” he continued. “The last time they backed off was because the uncertainty of state funding. When we found out this year we are operating on a little bit of a deficit that we can handle this year, and the next three years if we needed to. But we aren’t at the point where we were at about 2004 and 2005, where we were pouring parking lots and those kinds of things out of the maintenance and operations fund. So everything we are doing right now from an M&O standpoint is just doing business.
“So the vision is, when is the right time? What do we do? And how do we keep that vision in effect to improve this school district not only for next year, but for the next 10, 15 or 20 years.”
Baird pointed to the middle school library itself. “I think the room that we are in here ... well, the one next door is the 1924 hall. We are currently getting ready to abate some asbestos in the ceiling over here to get to a crack. Because of the dry weather, a crack has come up in that wall. So, there is work everywhere.”
“We have some health and safety issues at the football field, in the way of handicap accessibility to restrooms, etc.”
Current members Merle Rogers and Mark Kyle, both also members of the advisory committee in 2008, agreed with Baird’s assessment.
Rogers said he has experienced the facilities first-hand as his children went through school, and when his parents accompanied him to games at Hawk Stadium. “The issues that we face there are tremendous,” he said.
Fairchild said, “We feel like we have support for it (a bond), we just want to be good stewards of the money and do the right things for our community going forward, and what is best for the kids.”
The board president also mentioned that Cryovac may be offering to sale or donate land adjacent to the existing high school, which would offer up additional possibilities. “That weighs heavy on our minds,” he said. “Because we really don’t want to spend a lot of money on the junior high if the chance in the future that we can put a (new) high school next to the high school now, and move the junior high there and/or build a new junior high next to the current facility.”
“The biggest single thing in the community that will cause growth is your school system,” said Robert Wilcox, longtime resident of the school district. “People coming in, the first thing they want to look at is, where are my kids going to school? This is something we need to keep in mind. We need to keep it first class.
“I know at the stadium, there is probably 650 to 700 seats in that stadium we have that people should not be sitting on. They are not safe. In fact, I fell out there last week and tore up three of them when I hit it with my head. These need to be addressed.”
Concerning the middle school gym, Wilcox said, “When they built that thing in 1950, I thought it was inadequate then, and I sure do think it is inadequate now. We have flooring problems. Some of the beams holding the roof up, we have one that is showing some problems. We’ve just got to do it.
“Out here in the country ... Denny McCarthy will tell you ... you don’t keep up a barbed-wire fence, pretty soon you are having to redo the whole thing,” Wilcox continued. “And that works with this school district. If you don’t keep up what you’ve got, next thing you know you have to replace it all.”
• The current I and S (interest and sinking) tax rate is 9-cents. This debt will be retired in 2019. When retired, it will generate an additional bonding capacity of $7-million;
• IPCISD’s net taxable value for 2011 is $519-million. Given this base, each penny of tax rate generates approximately $52,000;
• The district’s current maximum capacity for issuing debt is approximately $29-million;
• A $15-million bond package would approximately require 21-cents of tax, and would raise the taxes on a $100,000 home $210 per year;
• A $10-million bond package would approximately require 14-cents of tax, and would raise the taxes on a $100,000 home $140 per year;
Fairchild noted that the facility advisory committee identified the middle school as the campus most in need of improvements. Architects proposed cost of renovation almost equal to the cost of building a new campus. “Since that was done, there have been a couple of different options,” he said.
“We are currently in discussion with Cryovac to acquire land adjacent to our high school campus,” he continued. “Currently, there is no state assistance for new construction, as there has been in the past. This assistance can come through again, but we are not sure when. Since it (state assistance) is for instructional facilities alone, it can be advantageous to work on non-instructional projects now, and wait for this program to hopefully re-appear in the future.”
Baird offered a history on the state’s Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA). “It is not available now, but, for about the past 10 years ... and this all came about because of the Robin Hood and state lawsuits on equity financing, and there is another lawsuit taking place right now that the Supreme Court will hear ... but at that time, part of the equity settlement was IFA, where the state actually subsidized the building of new instructional facilities in the state. The bond issue here a few years ago, Iowa Park took advantage of IFA, and the state’s been giving us money up until this year to help retire the bonded indebtedness for the new construction – remodel does not qualify, and it can only be instructional – but I know at one time we were receiving a little over $70,000 a year. But, this year after the past legislative session, that’s gone.
“Now, this is what I think,” Baird continued. “I believe after this lawsuit is over, and we go through this equity issue again, there is a very real possibility that the IFA will come back again. With that said, any instructional facilities that we were to build now would not qualify for that. If we wait and see, a few years down the road, they could be eligible. And some school districts across this state earned up to 30-percent of the total bonding cost, that the state paid for.
“Now, having said all of that, this could be an opportune time for the district to invest in upgrading non-instructional facilities, and in seven years when our current debt is returned, hopefully that IFA will be there, that we could take advantage of for instructional facilities.”
Assistant Superintendent Steve Moody showed the audience powerpoint slides indicating proposals for remodeling and new construction of all campuses and the high school athletic complex.
Of the current construction bond options (not including options for a new high school or new middle school), the slides reflected renovations to Kidwell Elementary ($2.9-million), Bradford Elementary ($2.3-million), W.F. George Middle School ($16.3-million), Iowa Park High School ($6-million), and Hawk Stadium/Athletic Complex ($8- to $10-million).
Fairchild said various options are being considered on how to package the bond proposal, including a list of options for each campus that voters could vote up or down on the ballot. “There are pros and cons to that,” he noted. “We are here for your input. I do know that I am a member of this community. I pay taxes. I support something for this school. I think it needs to change to keep up with our competitors. This is a business ... if ya’ll don’t think we are trying to get kids here, we are in trouble. Because we are trying to get kids and trying to maintain kids. And all these things we are doing is going to bring more kids here.”
Baird noted that all the current trustees, with the exception of Martha Dudley, have not been involved in a bond election. “Those of you that have, know that is more than having ballots made. I think another thing the board wants to know, is how much does the community want this?”
Wells said, “I agree with what’s been said. I know the facilities need a lot of repair and a lot of work. I don’t know that we can push everything we have seen here tonight. My personal feeling is we better kind of stick with the necessities, and then go for the icing on the cake maybe later on down the road.”
Former board president Fisher said, “It looks nice. I think people in town want it. I’m not sure they can afford it. But the whole thing is going to have to be sold.”
Middle school teacher Sheri Kennedy said, “It seems to me that the board themselves haven’t decided on what you want. And you can’t sell it if you don’t know what you want. And you’ve got to be everywhere the public is. Not just at businesses, but at Friendly Door, and at PTA meetings, at the schools, at the Lion’s Club, standing at Whoop-T-Do. You have to put yourself out there to everybody. But if you can’t come to them yet and say ‘This is what we are asking you, and this is why we are asking for it,’ I don’t see how May can be feasible. I hate to play Devil’s advocate, but, I just think at this point if you guys still don’t know what you want, I don’t know you will have enough time to sell it.”
Wilcox agreed, adding “She is exactly right. You present exactly what you want, and make your case at these meetings. First thing we need to do is ... I am old enough, I don’t want to see my taxes go up ... at my age my homestead will not go up any with the bond issue. The land outside my homestead, I’m going to have to pay more taxes, and I’m willing.
“But this is what the older generation needs to know ... their homestead, they live here in town, that tax is frozen. It will not go up. And they need to know that.”
Fairchild said, “I think we do have an amount in our head. We wanted tonight to come to get your feelings. We are having our regular board meeting Thursday, and we will have that number ready after the end of that meeting.”
Fischer told Fairchild that, during the last bond proposal election, trustees made a list of all meetings and events the trustees could attend to answer questions regarding the proposal. “We talked this until we were blue in the face,” he remembered. “And I think if you show people in town what we need, it will benefit you. If people are aware of what you need, I think they will vote for it.”
Catlin said “I think the biggest thing going against you is the economy. I think the people you see struggling right now just to make a house payment much less their taxes going up, I think you keep it pretty bare bones ... $15-million I don’t think is out of the question ... I think you also need to have every campus on board. If you have everybody in the school bought in, you’ve got it.”Fairchild assured the audience that trustees would have a firm message and proposal after Thursday’s meeting. “I think our board gets along wonderful. We are all on the same page. Please don’t take our inconsistency tonight as thinking we don’t have a vision ... we do ... I came in here open minded, wanting to see what you had to say back before we really solidified a number. I’ve got a number in my head, and I think every board member here does, and I don’t think we are a million dollars off each, so we are real close.”