Aledo ISD’s Bearcat Growth Committee held a public meeting Thursday afternoon to reveal the discussion and potential proposal of a $141 million bond package with zero increase to the tax rate.
“The Bearcat Growth Committee is comprised of 38 members and it’s very diverse — we represent business owners, we’re parents, we’re grandparents, some of us have kids in the district and some of us do not have kids in the district, but we live and work and worship here in the area,” BGC Co-Chair Christi James said. “The purpose of the Bearcat Growth Committee was to represent the school district in a study of data related to enrollment, finances, instructional priorities and facility needs.”
The BGC held nine meetings between January and May and has attended school board meetings to present updates to the board of trustees throughout that time.
“We started meeting in January and the goal is to present a bond package to the board at their meeting on Aug. 19. When we present that package, if the board approves it, then they will call a bond election for Nov. 5 and that’s where it’s going to be critical that we have [the public] helping us out in getting this bond passed,” James said. “We have a shortage of learning space at the district and if we don’t get this bond passed, our kids could very well be learning in a closet somewhere on one of the campuses because we have more students coming in than we have facilities to house them in.”
The Aledo ISD board of trustees approved the appointment of the BGC, which consists of parents, teachers, business owners and other community members that were selected through a variety of methods, including an application process and nominations by campus leaders.
“When we started this process, the first couple of meetings we wanted to figure out does the school district have a need? Do we have a need for more learning space and if so, to identify where that need is. The second concern we had is can we pay for it? And how do we pay for it in a fiscally responsible manner? We’re the second highest percentage growth for districts over 5,000 students in the Fort Worth region. When you compare that to the DFW region, we’re the fourth highest percentage growth of school districts,” BGC Co-Chair Jim Scott said. “We also know that residential developments are being planned. There’s 1,300 lots available for development right now and over 16,000 future planned lots in the Aledo school district. In five years the projection of our enrollment is over 8,700 students in the school district, so yes, we have a need for more building space.”
Scott went over the capacities of the five elementary schools and Aledo Middle School. In two years, the 2021-22 school year, the elementary schools will be over maximum capacity. Aledo Middle School will already be over functional capacity this school year, exceeding maximum capacity in the 2020-21 school year. The middle school leaks when it rains and also has bathroom issues because of overuse, according to the BGC.
“The estimated bond capacity we’re looking at for November 2019 is going to be roughly $141 million and that’s with a zero cent tax rate increase,” Scott said.
The proposed bond facilities needs are renovation of Aledo Middle School and potentially constructing a new middle school, moving sixth grade from McAnally Intermediate School to the middle school level and turning McAnally into an elementary school, renovation of Vandagriff Elementary School into an early childhood campus and potentially building a new elementary school and then possibly putting some money aside for future growth to purchase land for AISD.
Scott then went over the tax rate.
“There are two sides to the tax rate, one is the maintenance and operations, that’s the M&O side, which pays for the day-to-day operational expenses of your school district. The other is interest and sinking, I&S, and this is what goes to pay back the bonds that are approved by district voters, so that’s how we’re able to pay the bonds back,” Scott said. “Currently it’s $0.425 for I&S and the Bearcat Growth Committee has no interest in raising that tax rate and we’re not. We’re not proposing to raise the I&S tax rate. The M&O rate has been $1.17 and that tax rate is actually going down next school year because of House Bill 3 — that’s the tax rate compression bill. So that tax rate will actually go down this coming school year. Overall, the total tax rate will decrease from $1.59 to roughly $1.49.”
AISD Superintendent Susan K. Bohn said the district is really grateful for the BGC and the time each member has devoted into the creation of a bond package.
“Aledo ISD is about 130 square miles, so we feel like we are the hub of the community. We have 6,100 students right now and about 700 employees, so we really are a large employer in our area,” Bohn said. “My favorite things to talk about are our children and teaching and learning in the district. All of this really boils down to the experience that our children get in our classrooms, and the experience that our employees have teaching in our facilities.”
After the presentation, small group discussions took place where BGC members answered questions and discussed why they wanted to be a part of the committee.
“I’m a parent and have a daughter that’s going to be in sixth grade. I work for Arlington ISD in communications and I joined the committee because I’ve just seen how facilities and better learning spaces can affect students and their learning experience,” BCG member Mercedes Mayer said. “I see that bonds really are a necessary way to help with that growth and they can help solve persistent problems that a district can’t solve on their own. You can’t really build schools out of your I&S budget, so I joined because of that. My daughter will not be affected by the bond, she is affected by the fact that we have not passed the last bond because she’s about to go to a school that’s super overcrowded.”
The BGC is expected to complete the process of building a bond program at its final meeting on Aug. 1 before presenting a package to the board of trustees at the Aug. 19 regular meeting.
The BGC will hold another community meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Vandagriff Elementary School.