Fort Worth school officials working to pare down $785 million bond proposal

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fort Worth school district administrators are working with trustees and community leaders to prioritize projects and pare down the cost of a $785 million bond proposal that they hope to take to voters in November.

In a meeting with the Star-Telegram on Tuesday, Superintendent Walter Dansby said the district believes safety, security and technology expansion and upgrades, new classrooms to relieve overcrowding, prekindergarten for all four-year-olds, and a new centralized performing arts campus will remain priorities in the proposal.

“We’ve got to stay progressive — stay aggressive — in our approach,” Dansby said. “Otherwise, we will be left behind. I’m excited about the ideas in this one. Especially when it comes to technology and what it can offer.”

Dansby said he has been in communication with trustees who are examining the proposed projects to determine what is essential for their districts and the community. The board announced Tuesday that it will hold a special meeting to discuss the bond on Aug. 12. Dansby plans to present a pared-down version of the proposal to trustees at their Aug. 13 meeting.

The board has until Aug. 26 to put the referendum on a Nov. 5 ballot. Dansby said the trustees will have time to tweak the proposals before that deadline.

Community meetings in each of the nine school board districts are planned for September and October.

‘Emergency’ meeting in Tanglewood

On July 29, consultants unveiled a list of proposed projects for trustees to consider in the bond package. The proposals include building a new high school in Benbrook, adding 300 classrooms, universal prekindergarten and two specialized campuses to focus on fine arts and science and technology.

Dansby said he wants to offer a strong program for students who show interest and talent in the arts, rattling off examples of successful graduates from the Fort Worth schools including gospel singer Kirk Franklin and Sedrick Huckaby, both O.D. Wyatt High School alumni.

Meanwhile, he said he plans to meet with residents in the Tanglewood area Thursday to address parent and community concerns.

The consultants originally proposed moving Tanglewood Elementary to a new campus in Riverhills to relieve overcrowding. Under that plan, students would move from McLean Sixth Grade Center to the existing Tanglewood campus on Overton Park Drive. McLean Sixth’s campus would become a prekindergarten center.

Other proposals surfaced last week, including splitting Tanglewood, with prekindergarten through second grade remaining at the existing school and older students moving into a new campus.

Opposition to the plan was swift. Parents and residents moved quickly to organize a social media campaign and contacted school trustees. The Tanglewood Neighborhood Association called an emergency meeting for Thursday.

“By listening and seeing what they’re asking for it’s really to clear up all the rumors that they have and to understand that the focus is on Tanglewood, it’s on their school,” Dansby said. “The conversation may have gone other places to make things nicer for them, but the fact is the focus is on Tanglewood and what Tanglewood needs. If they’re wanting an addition at Tanglewood, then that’s what we’ll be working on,” he said Tuesday.

A demographics report prepared for the school district shows that Tanglewood is overcrowded. Last school year, there were 771 students on a campus with a capacity for 588 children. By 2017-2018, the school is projected to have 872 students and enrollment could swell to 1,003 by 2022-2023.

“We have seen a lot of rumors as to what’s going to happen. We would like some definite answers as to what the plans are. We don’t know how to react right now,” said Bill Campbell, Tanglewood Neighborhood Association president. “We just want to know what’s going on. Then we can make some plans as to what to do.”

Bond program timeline

Trustee Ann Sutherland, whose District 6 includes portions of Tanglewood and McLean Sixth, said Tuesday she won’t support a November bond.

“Major issues are arising with this proposal, and the time for Board review is too short. I will vote against moving forward with any proposal at this time,” Sutherland said in a statement. “Constituent comments are at the core of my decision to oppose this tax increase.”

In November 2012, the board agreed to hire AECOM, a consulting firm that managed the district’s 2007 bond, also known as the Capital Improvement Program.

In January, city leaders told the Star-Telegram that they would move the City’s planned bond package to May 2014 in order to let the school district run a bond referendum in November.

AECOM officials worked behind the scenes with architects, demographers and facility experts to gather data and background information for a possible bond. That effort was completed in June.

In July, AECOM developed the list of potential projects and Dansby met individually with eight of nine trustees to outline the proposal, which was publicly unveiled in a special board meeting on July 29.

Despite concerns that the program is moving too hastily, Dansby said the timetable is similar to that of the successful 2007 bond. He said the only delay this time was the result of two school board seats that weren’t decided until a June 15 runoff.

During the 2005-2006 school year, the district hired Magellan K-12 to draw up a blueprint for growth that included facilities and educational needs. The first part of the report was presented in January 2007. In mid-June, Magellan outlined potential projects for trustees to consider for the package.

On July 24, 2007, the school board voted to call a Nov. 6, 2007 bond referendum. Town hall meetings began on Sept. 19, 2007.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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