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.