— By SALLY SEXTON
In about a month, voters within the Weatherford school district will get their chance to voice their opinion during the May 11 election.
One of the highlights of the ballot for Weatherford ISD includes a bond proposal of $107,320,000, to be used for capital improvements, security, renovations, an added wing to the high school campus and more.
“This is something that the district, as well as the citizen’s committee, has done specific research on,” WISD superintendent Jeffrey Hanks said.
The bond proposal is the first put on a ballot for the district since 1999.
In September, WISD trustees formed the Citizens Facility Committee, made up of community members who were tasked with finding the needs of the district.
“From that research, there were two [main] things that came to the surface,” Hanks said. “One is the capacity issues and overcrowding and the other is safety, even prior to the Sandy Hooks incident.”
Currently, three of the seven elementary schools are at more than 100 percent capacity, with Wright at 108 percent, Austin at 104 percent and Curtis at 111 percent.
In order to fix that and accommodate future growth (Weatherford ISD’s student population is expected to grow by 16 percent over the next 10 years), renovations to existing facilities, adding a wing at the high school and moving students around to other buildings is proposed. Under the proposed bond, the Ninth Grade Center would become a middle school, Hall and Tison would accommodate grades 5-6 and the elementary campuses would house students pre-K through fourth. Additionally, a new career and technology education center would be added to the high school campus.
Required renovations to Hall would amount to a little over $8.7 million, while classroom and athletic renovations to the proposed middle school would equal more than $5 million. The bulk of the $107 million bonds comes from the high school’s plan, including the additional wing, career and technology center, Outback expansion, baseball and softball complex, track and synthetic turf field, practice fields, ag facility and earthwork, at a total of $48.7 million.
“I knew that people would be concerned about the athletic facilities, but you’ve got to look at the total package,” Hanks said. “A lot of these things go hand in hand.”
Hanks used the example of building a new softball/baseball complex and other athletic facilities, which would benefit various groups as well as help the district maintain safety and security.
With the baseball field and Roo Stadium located off South Main, and a softball field next to Hall Middle School, Hanks said keeping the athletic facilities, as well as other program centers, together on one property would provide more security while alleviating trips back and forth between campuses and fields.
Currently, daily shuttles run daily from the high school to the Ninth Grace Center, equaling about 432 student trips. Annually, there are 75,600 students trips back and forth, which amount to more than 6,000 hours of lost instruction, according to district data. Additionally, around 120 students drive their own vehicles daily, increasing the safety concern, for more than 21,000 trips per year.
“We want a comprehensive high school that’s self-contained, so that students won’t have to leave the campus for any activity: band, career and technology, etc.,” Hanks said. “That will help provide a safer environment for our students.”
Technology changes and revamps will also be part of the process, with a cost attached of almost $11 million.
“Harry Jones, our chief technology officer, said that 80 percent of our current desktops were purchased with 1999 bond money, and the technology department has done a stellar job of keeping our equipment functioning throughout the years,” Derik Moore, WISD director of communication, said.
Part of the revamp will be equipping classrooms with interactive white boards, as opposed to dry erase and chalk boards.
“It’s a proven fact that when students are engaged, they will learn more,” Hanks said. “Right now, only 40 out of our 500 or so rooms have the digital white boards.”
The technology package will also include a work station and tablet for each teacher, wireless-internet access point, document camera, servers, mobile laptop labs and tablet carts to recharge and program the computers.
If the bond is passed, Weatherford ISD’s tax rate would go from $1.40 to $1.55. The estimated impact on homeowners would be $131.75 annually per $100,000 property value, or $10.98 a month.
More details on the bond proposal can be found by going to www.weatherfordisd.com/bond2013/.