February 13, 2014

Arlington trustees unanimously approve $663 million bond election

If voters approve the entire package May 10, a homeowner with property valued at $100,000 would see an annual tax increase of $126 starting in 2016.

School trustees approved a $663.1 million bond package Thursday night — the largest in the 65,000-student district’s history — that, if approved by Arlington voters, would pay for a wide range of projects, including two elementary schools and centers for fine arts and athletics.

The bond package was approved 7-0. Trustees called the election for May 10.

If voters approve the entire package, a homeowner with property valued at $100,000 would see an annual tax increase of $126 starting in 2016, Chief Financial Officer Cindy Powell said.

The board’s vote follows five months of district meetings with an advisory committee and a third-party survey that found 53 percent of voters would accept $10 to $14 monthly tax increases for a $700 million bond plan.

More than 3,400 people provided feedback to the district.

“It was something that was so transparent that over the course of five months while we were doing these assessments, the only responses I got were positive,” Trustee John Hibbs said. “That gives me large encouragement that the community would like to see these processes move forward.”

At a Jan. 29 meeting, district officials accepted the $663.1 million in recommendations from the Capital Needs Steering Committee for updates in arts, sports, facilities, transportation and technology. The committee, comprising elected officials and community leaders, made recommendations for district’s master plan through 2019.

If the entire bond package is approved, the debt service tax rate would go up as much as 15 cents from 2016 to 2020 before tapering off, Powell said. That tax rate is specifically to raise money to pay the principal on bonds, she said. The district now has $445 million in debt.

Eleven other area districts still tax at a higher rate than Arlington, she said.

Taxes won’t go up for people with an over-65 homestead exemption.

The package total is $663,129,278.

By comparison, in November, voters in the Fort Worth school district approved three propositions in a $490 million bond program to add classrooms, expand pre-kindergarten and provide high-tech devices to help high school students in the digital age.

What’s in the package

Districtwide fine arts, athletic, agriculture and career/technical centers would be one of the biggest components of the Arlington bond package.

A $46 million Career and Technical Center would serve up to 1,400 students daily, expand high-demand programs like cosmetology and help aid the creation of a police academy, said Craig Wright, career and technology director.

He said another exciting element is the potential creation of a $2.5 million Agricultural Science Facility that would provide a home for Arlington animals used in school programs. Now, agriculture students keep their animals on private properties in Dalworthington Gardens.

A $25 million Athletic Complex, including a natatorium and a competition gym for gymnastics and wrestling, would replace outdated wrestling and gymnastics facilities, athletic director O.J. Kemp said.

The district could give students a unique fine arts experience with a $32 million Fine Arts Center and two dual-language/fine arts academies, Fine Arts Director Jeremy Earnhart said. Corey and Roquemore elementary schools would be re-purposed for the academies, and two 900-student elementary schools would be built.

Every elementary school would receive two science labs and a strings room from little musicians. The bond package also includes renovations to career and technical education and fine arts spaces at every high school, as well as $60 million in multipurpose activity centers.

The program would allow for wireless enhancements, additional technology access, and junior high and high school special-education alternative curriculum centers.

Workman Junior High would receive a needed classroom addition, and the Newcomer Center would be relocated.

Building improvements would address security, accessibility for the disabled, landscaping and other matters.

“This is the right piece, the right bond, the right time for the district,” school board President Bowie Hogg said.

Staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report.

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