Candidates split on Birdville schools' bond package

Posted Sunday, Apr. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Bond highlights

Eliminating more than 65 portable classrooms in the district.

Consolidating four of the oldest campuses into two new schools.

Renovations, including replacing aging roofs, upgrading electricity and plumbing, and installing energy management systems.

Relocating the horticulture and animal science center from Richland High School to the Birdville Technology and Advanced Learning center to serve all three high schools.

Source: Birdville school district

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The two candidates vying for the Place 6 seat on the Birdville school board have opposing views on the $183.2 million bond package that is the focus of their campaigns.

Voters will decide whether to approve the bond, which includes technology upgrades and security improvements districtwide. Early voting begins April 29.

In the Place 6 race, board President Ralph Kunkel is facing a challenge from former Richland Hills councilman and former Fort Worth Transportation Authority board member Jeffrey Ritter.

Kunkel, who has served on the Birdville school board since 2002, said the bond issue is the most important item on the ballot.

"It's all about the children and advocating for them. The bond is the most important election on the ballot," Kunkel said.

Kunkel, an employment benefits consultant for more than 30 years, said the bond will allow the district to expand educational opportunities for students.

Some of the items in the bond package include new computers, mobile devices, Internet connectivity, new or upgraded science labs, and security and safety improvements throughout the district.

Under the proposed bond package, four of the oldest campuses would be consolidated into two new schools. If the bond passes, Richland and W.T. Francisco elementary schools would close, and students would attend Birdville and Smith campuses in Haltom City.

The proposal to close Richland Elementary has been controversial, leading a citizens group, Keep Richland Open, to file complaints with the Tarrant County district attorney alleging that trustees violated the Open Meetings Act when deciding what to include in the bond package.

The district attorney's office determined that trustees did not violate state open meetings laws.

North Richland Hills and Haltom City passed resolutions supporting the bond package, while Richland Hills adopted a resolution opposing it.

If approved, a property owner in a home valued at $100,000 would see a tax increase of $4.35 per month. Persons 65 and older would not see a tax increase above their capped levels.

Kunkel said closing the outdated buildings would save $15 million over the next 10 years, thus bringing more money to the classroom.

"If this bond doesn't pass, there are going to be tough decisions by the board. It's time for replacement. This bond will solve a lot of needs," Kunkel said.

Ritter, 44, who teaches technology at Brookhaven Community College, said he will vote against the bond package and added that he believes the bond is "symptomatic" of the loss of direction among school board members.

"The school board is interested in building large structures, and I am fearful that education will be forgotten."

Ritter said technology was upgraded when voters approved the last bond election in 2006, and he questioned why it is necessary to spend more on technology improvements when they were recently completed. He also questioned why the district doesn't use some of its $82 million in reserve funds to pay for security and other improvements.

"I'm not advocating depleting the reserve funds," he said. "The focus should be maximizing the use of taxpayers' money to educate students."

Kunkel said having a good reserve balance will help the district get a better interest rate on the bond.

"We can't just spend all of our reserves," he said. "It's nice to talk about spending your savings, but our taxpayers would throw us out of office."

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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