FORT WORTH — Three propositions in a sweeping $490 million bond package for Fort Worth public schools were approved by wide margins Tuesday night, according to unofficial returns.“It’s a positive step for the future of Fort Worth ISD,” Superintendent Walter Dansby said. “I can’t tell you how excited we all are about the opportunities that lie before us in providing services to the students of Fort Worth ISD.” The bond package will add classrooms, expand pre-kindergarten to all students and bring high-tech devices to help high school students in the digital age. School officials were so eager to move forward that they were preparing to proceed immediately with seeking a project manager.Three propositions went before voters Tuesday, and some 22,592 ballots were cast. All three measures were passing with about 99 percent of votes counted — a lead that began with early vote results and continued as ballots were tallied throughout the night.The outcome was similar in the last school bond election. In 2007, voters approved a $593.6 million package, with 70 percent in favor and 30 percent against. Shortly before 10 p.m., with almost all the votes counted, Proposition 1 was passing with 73 percent of the vote, Proposition 2 was passing with about 72 percent, and Proposition 3 was passing with about 72 percent.“All of them passed with about the same percentage,” Dansby said, stressing that he’s thankful to voters for their support.Dansby and trustees monitored election returns at the district’s Professional Development Center.District 6 Trustee Ann Sutherland said Tuesday’s results showed solid support for the district’s plans. Sutherland said she supported Proposition 1 but was tentative about the other two measures“I felt strongly about Proposition 1,” Sutherland said. “Some of my voters felt strongly that we should not have frills.”Investing in the classroomDistrict leaders have said the three propositions will help students succeed while making room for growing enrollment.Proposition 1 is an 11-point plan that Dansby said made up “the essentials.” An estimated $386.6 million will be spent on 167 new classrooms, tighter security and new athletic field houses.Proposition 1 also calls for converting Benbrook Middle and Westpark Elementary schools into a high school complex that combines grades six to 12. Westpark students would attend a new campus.The first proposition also includes laptops or tablets for students in grades nine to 12.Two specialized campuses aimed at serving students interested in the arts or sciences are also part of the bond plan. Proposition 2 calls for creating a Performing & Fine Arts Academy and an academy that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The campuses would cost an estimated $73.3 million.Proposition 3 aims to keep school buses and district vehicles running smoothly. Most of the $30 million would replace aging buses. Funds would also replace student desks, band uniforms and musical instruments.Reacting to the voteThree political action committees formed in reaction to the proposal. Citizens Supporting Classroom Excellence is a specific-purpose committee created by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. “We’re delighted that voters were willing to put our future first by investing in our students,” said Bill Thornton, the chamber’s president and CEO. Thornton said the region needs “a well-educated and skilled workforce, with up-to-date infrastructure and curriculum in our public schools.”Thornton added: “Growing that intellectual capital locally helps our businesses be successful and ensures a better quality of life for all Fort Worth residents.”Another group, FWISD Parents for Kids, also formed to help promote the bond program. “I’m really excited about it. I’m excited for all the children of the Fort Worth school system,” said Keith Annis, who created the group.Annis said he was happy with the voter turnout.“That’s a lot more than I thought,” Annis said, adding that this indicates a mandate for the bond. A third group, It’s OK to Say No to the School Bond, formed in opposition. Bond opponents say they worry that local and federal governments carry too much debt.“The taxpayer dollars spent promoting this by the school board seem to have paid off,” said Kent Kallmeyer, treasurer for It’s OK to Say No to the School Bond. “The Fort Worth ISD will now lead the state with one of the highest per student debt ratios. Our job now as citizens is to hold the school district accountable and make sure they spend the funds responsibly and in the best interest of the students.”What’s nextApproval of all three propositions adds 3 cents to the tax rate, now $1.322, with $1.04 for operations and 28 cents for debt repayment.Trustees voted Aug. 23 to place the bond package on a referendum. It is the first bond program since November 2007, when voters approved $593.6 million in projects. The district held a series of town hall meetings to inform the community about the bond program.Projects were recommended by the consulting firm AECOM, which managed the 2007 bond program. In November 2012, the district hired AECOM to provide support services.Dansby said the next steps include putting out requests for proposals for professional services and program management. The district will look at what companies have to offer.“It gives us an opportunity to be transparent as we move forward,” Dansby said.Trustees and administrators pared down an original list of projects that totaled about $785 million. Early plans called for building a new Tanglewood Elementary School to ease crowding. They were taken off the table after parents and neighbors voiced disapproval.The final plan includes a 20-classroom addition at Paschal High School that would accommodate 500 students, an eight-classroom addition at McLean 6th Grade Center and 14 classrooms at Tanglewood. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1