FORT WORTH — One in an occasional series about the Nov. 5 Fort Worth school bond election.When the Fort Worth school district takes delivery of its “new” airplane Friday, it will be parked in a former auto shop classroom at Dunbar High School.Tarrant County College is lending the Cessna C150M to the district’s aviation technology program. The two-seater will be delivered without its wings attached, in part because the full aircraft won’t fit through the shop class doors.Soon, however, administrators hope that Dunbar will have its own hangar to store airplanes and engines for students’ hands-on learning.With an estimated price tag of $1.75 million, the hangar is among several projects in the district’s $490 million bond package designed to allow students to train on industry-standard equipment. Early voting on three propositions will begin Oct. 21. Election Day is Nov. 5. Last week, school officials met with more than 100 neighbors and parents at the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences, the first in a series of town hall meetings to answer questions about the proposal.The hangar is included in Proposition 1, an $386.6 million proposal that would include a high school in Benbrook, classroom additions and districtwide pre-kindergarten. Prop 1 also includes equipment upgrades and classroom expansions for programs that provide specialized studies that draw students from throughout the district. It includes funding for renovations at J.T. Stevens Elementary to expand the popular hands-on learning and to create the district’s third applied learning center.The specialized programs are part of the district’s Gold Seal Schools and Programs of Choice, which let students choose courses based on their interests, and Career and Technical Education programs, in which students can earn certification or credentials in their field while still in high school. “Our real goal of this work in programs of choice is for our high schools to be destinations for their community, not only their local attendance community but of the city, and we’re really seeing that,” said Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent for leadership, learning and student support. “Interest is growing. We’re really excited about it.” The district is also proposing to expand its science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, program with a stand-alone academy for students in grades six to 12. That $12.5 million project is part of the $73.3 million Proposition 2, which includes $40 million for a new performing and fine arts academy. Proposition 3 seeks $30 million for nonconstruction projects such as buses and band instruments.Equipment upgradesStudents in the district’s automotive programs hone their skills on dented city of Fort Worth vehicles that need repairing. Aviation technology students need airplanes to prepare for careers in the aviation and aerospace industry.Upperclassmen in the program, based at Dunbar High, are bused to TCC’s Northwest Campus and can work toward their aircraft mechanics license. After graduation, they will need only one year of study to earn an associate’s degree.“It is for them to have the real-life experience of actually working on airplanes and understanding the mechanics of an airplane. Hopefully, this will be the first of a few, not only planes, but also engines that they can actually work on and have in house,” Superintendent Walter Dansby said.But some question whether spending $1.75 million on a hangar is a solid investment. There are only 34 students in the program, which was launched three years ago.Parent Cara Kennemer told trustees at a special meeting last month that the hangar project is among “expensive inequities” in the package that benefit just a few students. “While the Fort Worth ISD has emphasized the theme of equality for all students in the bond, there’s no compelling reason to spend the money to benefit less than 1 percent of our high school students,” she said.But district leaders say students need to get their hands on the right equipment when they are 14 and 15 so they can stay on track.“You need things in front of you,” Sorum said. “There’s a lot of delayed gratification for a ninth-grader to have to wait until 11th grade to actually put their hands on the equipment and see it close-up.“When you’re that age, you need things in front of you. And you can’t just put an airplane engine in a classroom or an airplane in a gymnasium; you need a facility to have those there.”Dansby said improved facilities can attract students to the program. There is demand for aviation-related jobs in the region, he said, and districts have found that when they put learning facilities in place, students will follow.The bond package includes funds for renovations and upgrades at other high school campuses. District officials want to provide upgraded equipment for the auto collision repair program at Trimble Technical High and the auto technology program at O.D. Wyatt High.Officials also plan to buy upgraded equipment and perform refurbishing work at a student training kitchen at O.D. Wyatt used in culinary arts classes that are part of the restaurant management program.At Eastern Hills High School’s law enforcement and legal services program, officials plan to add a 2,000-square-foot courtroom classroom, where students can practice what they’ve learned by staging mock trials. Students currently use a portable building that formerly served as the school district’s truancy court.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown