Keller — Parents had mixed reactions to Keller district officials’ concepts for a possible November bond election at a public forum held Thursday at Keller High School.Superintendent Randy Reid said he wanted to gauge the community’s response to the complex plan before developing a bond package.“I’m a second year superintendent here, and I don’t want a failed bond package,” Reid said. “If there’s not support, or at least a lack of hostility, we won’t go forward with these ideas.”Reid said he and administration officials wanted to develop a bond package that addressed the district’s sub-par career and technical education programming, continued growth, needs at older facilities and split feeder patterns.Due to an increase in tax values, early debt repayment and low interest rates, the district can raise more than $150 million in bond funds without raising taxes. Keller is already at the 50 cent maximum the state allows for the bond debt tax rate.About 50 people attended the forum, which lasted more than three hours because of the many questions from the audience. Several people said the wide-ranging concepts were difficult to evaluate.“It’s all over the place,” said Megan Schank, a Keller parent who lives in the Willis Lane Elementary attendance zone. “It’s a huge package. On part of it I agree with them, and on other things I’m not so sure.”The key components of the conceptual plan would:Turn South Keller Intermediate School into a career and technical education center, sending those fifth- and sixth-graders to the adjacent Indian Springs Middle School (with an addition and tweaks to the feeder pattern)Expand and renovate Keller High School to hold all students east of U.S. Highway 377, making it about 25 percent bigger in enrollmentBuild an elementary, fifth- through eighth-grade campus and preschool center in the southwest part of the districtRenovate a number of older buildings.The adjustments officials would make to the feeder pattern to address crowding concerns would be to move Liberty Elementary School out of Indian Springs and into Bear Creek Intermediate and Keller Middle Schools. Another adjustment would be to take Freedom Elementary zone students out of the Timber Creek feeder pattern and put them into the Central feeder pattern.Also, officials would shift Bluebonnet Elementary students from Parkwood Hill Intermediate and Hillwood Middle Schools to Chisholm Trail Intermediate and Fossil Hill Middle Schools.Keller lacks career and training educationSome parents questioned the need for a career training facility, saying the district should continue to focus on preparing students for success in college.Reid said today’s career and technical education (CTE) programming is geared just as much for students seeking four-year college degrees as for those looking to have a marketable skill right out of high school. He gave the example of the architecture and construction strand, currently not offered in Keller. Students who want to take those courses go to the Birdville Center of Technology and Advanced Learning. A student who wants to become an architect or an interior designer would go on to college while a student who wants to be a plumber or electrician would go into a trade.Reid gave several reasons why he believes a CTE facility is necessary. Keller lags behind other area school districts by not having a training center and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to send students to Birdville for part of the school day to study automotive technology, construction and cosmetology. While many CTE programs are offered now in the four high schools, buildings lack space, instructors, equipment and a critical mass of students for advanced courses, Reid said. Administrators are also trying to expand offerings to comply with House Bill 5, approved last year.Pros and cons of a mega-schoolA number of parents said they were concerned about Keller High growing to 3,400 students.“They’re making this massive high school, and it’s not going to have the same quality of education,” said Rosa Tillman, a Keller parent living in the Shady Grove Elementary attendance zone. Matt Strong, a parent at Keller-Harvel Elementary School, said he was concerned that the facility wouldn’t be able to handle the larger numbers in the cafeteria, gyms and library and that student access to programs would be more challenging.Reid said much of the building would need to be renovated to accommodate more students.“The most difficult project in the whole thing would be right here,” Reid said of Keller High. “Doing substantial work with 2,600 kids around is a challenge. It’s like remodeling your home while you’re living in it.”He said the larger school could be beneficial in being able to offer more programs and Advanced Placement courses, and the consistent feeder pattern would help officials build academic, athletics and fine arts programs. Now about half of Indian Springs students go on to Keller High and half go to Central.Schank said she appreciated much of the plan but worried that, even with the additions, Indian Springs would be too crowded if it became a fifth- through eighth-grade campus of 1,500.“Making ISMS that huge has too many challenges,” she said.District officials will host three more community forums, one at each of the other high schools, in the next week.
Sandra Engelland, 817-431-2231 Twitter: @SandraEngelland