Fort Worth school district leaders are asking for public comments on a proposed $749.7 million bond to fund new schools and classrooms and upgrades to high schools. The plan carries no tax rate increase. Parents, taxpayers, and others will have a chance to offer their input during a series of town hall meetings through October. Town hall meetings are a common practice for the school board and are often designed to answer questions from the public in hopes of turning any objections into a yes vote on a bond.
From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. tonight (Wed., Sept. 13), the second town hall will take place at Eastern Hills High School (5701 Shelton St.). The third is set for 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at South Hills High School (6101 McCart St.).
Even though the tax rate would not increase, homeowners could still see their tax bills rise.
“It could not increase because of the tax rate but just because of an increase in [property] values,” said Elsie Schiro, chief financial officer for the school district.
The bulk of the bond proposal calls for $581 million in major upgrades and renovations for high schools, according to district documents. Science, fine arts, extracurricular programs, and athletics are among the programs that would benefit from the improvements. Under current projections, about $52 million would fund athletic fields and other sports-related areas.
Sixty percent of Fort Worth’s high schools were built before 1960.
“We are trying to renovate the interiors to reflect the new generation of learning with more technology,” Schiro said. “Students of this generation do not learn as I did or as you did. They have devices, technology, and open spaces. The furniture will be configured to allow them to learn through technology and collaboration. Students are no longer sitting in a row and being lectured by teachers. This would transform aging buildings into 21st century classrooms and do major renovations inside buildings to create a new learning environment.”
One of the larger projects in the proposal is a new campus to relieve overcrowding at Tanglewood Elementary. Other plans suggest relocating the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS), the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, and the World Languages Institute. TABS would move to the Tarrant County College campus at 300 Trinity Campus Circle, the Young Men’s Leadership Academy would merge with Dunbar High School, and the World Languages Institute would be housed at the former Leonard Sixth Grade Center.
To fund the bond, the district will essentially rearrange the current tax rate with no increase. The total tax rate of $1.352 per $100 of assessed valuation is broken into two parts. The maintenance and operations tax rate of $1.04 covers everyday expenses, and the principal and interest portion of the tax rate of $0.312 is used for paying off outstanding debt.
Under the plan, the district would move two cents from one of these tax rates to the other. Based on state funding formulas, the move will allow the district to receive an extra $23 million annually in state funding, according to district documents.
“The goal is to maximize state funds available to the Fort Worth ISD – but that we are currently not taking advantage of – in order to graduate students who are college and career ready,” Superintendent Kent Scribner said in a prepared statement.
Trustee Ann Sutherland said that overall, she is pleased with the bond proposal, including the unique funding method. The projects, she said, will provide much needed building improvements and allow the district to expand to meet its growing enrollment.
“Of course, you never get everything you want,” Sutherland said. “But the purpose of the bond is to provide structural improvements that we’ll need.”
The school board has voted to hold both the bond and the “penny swap” election on Nov. 7. Early voting starts Oct. 23 and ends Nov. 3.
DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said the penny-swap tax rate change is legal and is something other districts have done to raise local revenue levels.
The last day to register to vote is October 10.
Weekly, thank you for reporting on this issue. It’s good to see you write about FWISD. If you look into it you can find a lot more to report on.
This bond is just another bad idea from the district’s administration. It was put together hastily, in almost total secrecy by staff, and presented to the board shortly before they were supposed to vote on it. No one on the board had a chance to really study this proposal before they voted on it. Like the last bond, it was rushed too quickly to get it on the ballot for some arbitrary reason. There isn’t anything in this bond that can’t wait long enough for it to be completely studied by the board and the voters of Ft. Worth. Before anything else happens a complete audit of the 2013 bond needs to be completed. There are funds unaccounted for from that bond that need accounted for. One example is where did the money budgeted in 2013 for the purchase of land and construction for a new elementary west of Hulen go? Remember that didn’t happen then because of the uproar from Tanglewood parents over closing the existing Tanglewood elementary to build the new one. In a meeting with Tanglewood parents late last spring, no one from the administration that was at that meeting could account for the millions of dollars set aside for that project and Ann Sutherland hasn’t provided that information despite saying she would. Now included in the new bond is more millions for that new elementary that’s to built west of Hulen to ease overcrowding at Tanglwewood. That’s just one project that money is unaccounted for and an audit would determine if there was more. The district is asking the people of Ft. Worth to agree to this bond in a hurry for no good reason when the district has a history of mismanagement and theft from bonds in the past. Audit the 2013 bond first, then take the time to truly study the proposed bond and vote on it only after a complete and unhurried study of the new bond has been done.
As a former member of the Citizen’s Oversight Committee for the 2013 bond, this bond they are asking for is outrageous and a product of mismanagement of funds, misappropriation of funds, and bad consultants that made millions from the last bond. Everything the ISD says they need to fix, build or fund with this bond they already got from the last bond. They had the money to do everything they wanted and they are still not satisfied. Every high school got renovation money, field house money, bathroom money, repair money, we purchased several fleets of buses, provided a laptop to every kid and even though Tanglewood never got their renovations, THE ISD GOT THE MONEY TO DO THEM!! So what happened to that money? Where did it all go? All of the schools got the funding for security cameras, yet not all of the schools had them installed. Not only that, the bond packages are strictly for brick and mortar projects, meaning it can only be used FOR building and renovations, yet they are using funds inappropriately for PROGRAMS – music programs, athletic programs, pre-k programs, etc.. Not only that, their agenda simply described three things that the money COULD BE used for, not WOULD BE used for. Everything they are saying they need, they’ve already said, verbatim, for the last bond. Don’t fall for it, Fort Worth. We are already in debt to the tune of $1.031 BILLION dollars of school debt with interest payments that come out of the ISD’s operating fund, to the tune of 247 million dollars!
Not only that, Elsie Chiros told me at the last meeting that FWISD currently receives $400 million dollars a year from property taxes, $400 million from the state and about $100 million in federal dollars! That’s 900 MILLION dollars. If they can’t manage almost a billion dollars for this school district and have the audacity to ask for $750 million more, they all need to be fired!