A unanimous vote Friday from the Weatherford ISD Board of Trustees to call a $107.32 million bond election ended more than a year’s worth of discussion and, if passed, will address several issues the district has regarding safety and security, building capacity, capital improvements and technology.The May 11 bond election will be the district’s first since a $97 million bond was passed in 1999.Since that time, Weatherford ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Hanks said the community has grown and educational needs have changed.“It’s a courageous thing to do,” Hanks said to board members after the motion passed. “It’s an exciting time for our kids and the community but the work has only just begun.”If approved by voters, 68 percent of the monies would be used to address safety and security and capacity issues. Though Hanks stressed that all children are safe while in school, he admitted that the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December caused parents and administration to look at access to campuses more stringently.“We do a great job of keeping our kiddos safe but we could be doing a lot better,” Hanks said at a community meeting Thursday that gave those attending a sneak peek of what the board was considering.Hanks said campuses will be reconfigured to include a security vestibule at the front entrance of each school that allows no access to the student areas until visitors have checked in at the main office. Only after a proper driver’s license check has been completed and verified will anyone be allowed to enter the heart of the school.Also, more security cameras will be added to campuses and an interface with the Weatherford Police Department would allow them to see what is going on inside the building should it be needed. Additionally, fencing will be added to campuses that currently have little or none at all.When it comes to capacity, Hanks said three of WISD’s seven elementary schools are at or above 100 percent. To address that, the district would reconfigure those schools to house pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Two intermediate campuses for fifth and sixth grades would then be housed at Hall and Tison and the Ninth Grade Center would then be Weatherford Middle School, housing seventh and eighth grades.A new 78,000 square-foot academic wing would be built at Weatherford High School for ninth graders. This would eliminate the need for students to be transported back and forth from the Ninth Grade Center to the high school to participate in programs like band, athletics and other activities.“Our kids take several trips a day back and forth depending on the programs they’re in and it puts them at risk,” Hanks said. “We’ve had accidents.”The shuttle service also costs the district about $100,000 a year, not to mention the loss of instructional time students lose traveling.Also to be constructed at the high school would be a new Career and Technology Center that would house popular programs like cosmetology, auto tech, culinary arts, among others.“We’ve seem tremendous growth in these programs over the past few years,” Hanks said. “Not every student is cut out for a two or four-year school and this gives them the technical skills they need to get out into the workforce immediately after graduation.”Capital improvements compose about 16 percent of the funds and include roofing and HVAC equipment replacements at campuses that need it; relocating and expanding the ag barn; upgrading or constructing several athletic facilities at the high school; and constructing a road on WHS property that connects B.B. Fielder to the main campus area.The technology portion of the bond is about 9 percent and would update every classroom to have interactive whiteboards, teacher workstations and tablets, a wireless internet access point and other items to make the classrooms more adaptable to the 21st century learning environment.“No longer are we competing with students in Aledo and Springtown, we are competing with students in London, France and countries around the world,” Hanks said. “It truly is a global community.”The remaining 7 percent of the bond covers inflation, fees and other miscellaneous items.Impact on WISD taxpayersThe cost to the average homeowner in Weatherford should the $107.32 million bond be approved would be about $15 a month (178.25 annually), based on the average home value in Weatherford of $130,000, less $15,000 homestead exemption.The current tax rate of 1.40 ($1.17 Maintenance and Operations and 23 cents Interest & Sinking) would increase 15.5 cents to $1.555 ($1.17 M&O and .385 cents I&S).Anyone 65 and older who has filed for the over 65 homestead exemption will have their taxes frozen and are not affected by the proposed election.How it happenedBefore Friday’s vote, several members of the Weatherford community were given a sneak peek of what the proposed bond included.Hanks told those attending Thursday that shortly after he arrived in December 2011, he toured all WISD campuses and facilities and it led to some eye-opening concerns. That’s when the district began exploring what it would cost to update, and in some cases overhaul, its facilities.In October, several options were presented to a Citizen’s Committee, some of whom were at Thursday’s meeting, for feedback on what they thought would be most beneficial as stakeholders. The choices were narrowed down to three and then, ultimately, to the one Hanks presented.Though only 75 of the approximately 200 people who were invited were in attendance, the overall sentiment was positive. Several asked questions and most seemed to think it was necessary to keep the district viable for the next 10-15 years.“Our kids deserve the best,” Board president Charlie Martinez said. “We thank you for taking the time to see what we are doing to keep WISD the best district it can be.”Early voting will be April 29 – May 7, campus satellite voting will be May 2 (at all 11 WISD campuses) and Election Day is May 11.
Melissa Winn, 817-594-9902, Ext. 104 Twitter: @scoopmdw3701