Arlington school bond includes junior high demolition, rezoning

05/04/2014 4:03 PM

05/05/2014 11:41 AM

On the city’s east side, one of the oldest junior high schools stands in need of several million dollars’ worth of repairs.

Built in 1963, Hutcheson Junior High has seen better days. Its linoleum floors are cracked, scratched and peeling. Its classrooms are outdated, and worn-out metal-framed windows are wasting energy.

District officials — who spent $1.3 million on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning upgrades on the building last summer — say it would take another $5.8 million in upgrades to bring Hutcheson up to date.

But in a sweeping reorganization of the district’s junior high schools as a part of the $663.1 million bond package, Hutcheson would be torn down and its 900-plus students relocated, in order to build a $46 million Career and Technical Center on the site.

Early voting for Saturday’s bond election continues Monday and Tuesday.

Hundreds of other students at the Venture High School and Ferguson Junior High campuses — as well as the Newcomer Center — also would be reassigned to other schools farther away beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

School district officials say this bold re-imagining of nearly half of the district’s 12 junior highs is needed to make better use of the district’s campuses and to make way for other programs.

“It is important that our junior high capacity is fully utilized,” Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said. “This would help us maximize the utilization of our facilities, and assist us in ensuring students have maximum opportunities for success.”

Arlington junior highs are 62 percent full, and could benefit from rezoning to increase participation and course offerings, Cavazos said.

But opponents worry that knocking down schools and merging different programs on one campus may be going too far.

‘Hutch’ leaves home

If voters approve the district’s bond package, the maximum tax increase would be 15 cents from 2016-20, which would cost up to $126 extra a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

In the case of Hutcheson, demolition would make way for a new $46 million Career and Technical Center where students would learn job skills to better equip them to enter the workforce, officials say.

Students from Hutcheson would relocate to the Workman Junior High campus, while Workman’s Newcomer Center would relocate to Ferguson Junior High and share the campus with Venture High School Students. Ferguson students would move to Ousley Junior High and share the same campus.

Hutcheson’s projected enrollment for the 2015-16 school year is 941, but if the bond package passes, those students will be sent to Workman, a campus a little over 3 miles away with a projected student body of 646.

Officials would use $7 million in bond funds for renovations to Workman that would add another 320 to its capacity. With the additional space, Workman would have the capacity to house 1,718. Enrollment would total 1,587 for Hutcheson and Workman students combined.

The Newcomer Center, which is housed at Workman and serves English language learners (ESL students), would relocate to Ferguson.

But proponents of the anti-bond political action committee It’s OK to Vote No, Arlington, want to know why the district would demolish Hutcheson after spending $1.3 million on upgrades last summer.

Cindy Powell, the district’s chief financial officer, said the investment would not go to waste. Powell said the district would reclaim all the equipment for use at other schools, adding that Hutcheson would be one of the most expensive buildings to fix.

She said the district selected Hutcheson as the site of its future Career and Technical Center after mapping out all the students’ addresses to pinpoint the exact center of the district.

Newcomer and Venture get cozy

If the bond package passes, all of Newcomer’s projected 212 students in grades 7-10 would be sent to Ferguson in the fall of 2015. There, they would share the campus with Venture High School students.

Venture is an alternative high school for at-risk students in grades 9-12 who work at their own pace. It has a projected enrollment of 316 for the 2015-16 school year.

The district would combine the English language learners at Newcomer with the alternative high school students at Venture to maximize space and instruction, Cavazos said. It will cost the district $100,000 in bond money to reconfigure the 978-capacity Ferguson to take in new students.

But Tom Andress, a 78-year-old Arlington resident who has volunteered at Venture for the past 22 years, said he doesn’t foresee the district merging the instruction for the two schools.

“They might be in the same building, but it’s going to be two different things,” said Andress, who plans to move with the students.

Venture principal Beverley McReynolds said if the merger takes place she and Newcomer interim principal Mark Strand will discuss how the students could benefit from sharing instruction.

She said the move will be a “win-win” in terms of resources, and Newcomer students could benefit from some of the classes Venture offers, such as photography.

She said Newcomer’s junior high students could also, “potentially finish their education at Venture and stay where they are.”

But civil rights activist Lico Reyes questions whether this will sacrifice the quality of education for Newcomer students.

“You are putting kids that have a language barrier with kids that have lesser barriers because they are willing to violate the rules,” said Reyes, a longtime leader of the Arlington branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“The (Newcomer) kids will learn the habits of kids that have bad habits, and I don’t think that’s a good formula for educating kids with a language problem,” he added.

But Newcomer’s interim principal said it would be “great to have as much interaction as possible” between the two groups.

“I think it will work very well,” Strand said. “...Teachers and staff will be involved in planning and program use to best mesh the two areas.”

Currently 20 different languages are spoken at Newcomer, and Strand said Venture students would benefit from learning from those cultures.

“I can see where they’ll learn from all the kids that come from South America, Mexico, Europe, and Asia — most of those kids have stricter backgrounds. The question is which kids are getting more from the others?” Reyes said.

To the max

The district currently does not have a designated use for the Venture building, but shuffling its students would cause Ferguson kids to relocate and combine with Ousley Junior High for a total of 1,040 students combined.

The rezoning of students in Hutcheson, Workman, Ferguson, Venture and Ousley will increase junior high usage by 22 percent. Cavazos said combining students will be the best use of buildings and instruction.

None of the high school feeder patterns will be disrupted by the moves, but 22 staff positions would be eliminated.

Arlington appointed new principals to Hutcheson and Ferguson Thursday to provide leadership and assist with the transition if the bond passes. Both schools were previously led by interim principals.

Cavazos said the new principals will serve for at least a year and once the transitions are made they can apply for other administrative roles within the district.

The district will review its transfer surplus process and application procedures to see if current staff and teachers would be better suited at other schools or elsewhere, such as the Career and Technical Center, in the future, Cavazos said.

If the bond election passes, staff would be able to apply to other schools, and the district will ask for input from teachers and staff when it begins reviewing the process in the summer.

Parents will be notified once plans are finalized in the fall, he said.

“Parental input as well as student input is important,” Cavazos said. “...Committees and focus groups will help with the transition, and input from staff, students and teachers will be imperative.”

Creating career-ready students

As a part of community input, the district will reach out to the workforce and business industry to help shape curriculum at the Career and Technical Center.

The accessibility of the planned Career and Technical Center is also important, because if voters approve the bond package the center will, “provide job skills and certifications for students so they are better prepared to enter the workforce,” according to campaign literature sent out by political action committee Arlington First.

The center would serve up to 1,400 students a day that would be bused to and from their home high schools to take programs such as HVAC, welding, engineering, cosmetology, health sciences and dual credit firefighter and EMT certification.

Because most of the certificates are offered via dual credit classes with Tarrant County College, as is the firefighter certification, Cavazos said the center will open up possibilities for both career- and college-minded students.

“Some will obtain employment to pay for college, and some will obtain certificates for associate degrees,” he said. “...Students will take certification courses and could meet admission requirements in high school to go to Tarrant County College.”

Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792


Early voting ends Tuesday

Early voting continues through Tuesday for the Arlington school district bond issue and other municipal and school board elections. Election Day is Saturday.

Where to vote early

Vote early from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at these Tarrant County locations:

Main early voting site: Tarrant County Election Center, 2700 Premier St., Fort Worth

Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center St., Arlington

Elzie Odom Athletic Center, 1601 N.E. Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington

Center for Community Service Junior League of Arlington, 4002 W. Pioneer Parkway

South Service Center, 1100 S.W. Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington

Tarrant County Subcourthouse in Arlington, 700 E. Abram St.

B. J. Clark Annex Room 4, 603 Southeast Parkway, Azle

Bedford Public Library, 2424 Forest Ridge Drive

Colleyville City Hall, 100 Main St.

Crowley Community Center, 900 E. Glendale St.

Euless Public Library, 201 N. Ector Drive

Forest Hill Civic and Convention Center, 6901 Wichita St.

All Saints Catholic Church parish hall , 200 N.W. 20th St., Fort Worth

Diamond Hill/Jarvis Library, 1300 N.E. 35th St., Fort Worth

Griffin Subcourthouse, 3212 Miller Ave., Fort Worth

Handley-Meadowbrook Community Center, 6201 Beaty St., Fort Worth

James Avenue Service Center, 5001 James Ave., Fort Worth

JPS Health Center Viola M. Pitts/Como, lower level, Suite 100, 4701 Bryant Irvin Road North, Fort Worth

Northwest Branch Library, 6228 Crystal Lake Drive, Fort Worth

Riverside Community Center, 3700 E. Belknap St., Fort Worth

Sendera Ranch Elementary School, 1216 Diamond Back Lane, Fort Worth

Southside Community Center, 959 E. Rosedale St., Fort Worth

Southwest Subcourthouse, 6551 Granbury Road, Fort Worth

Summerglen Branch Library, 4205 Basswood Blvd., Fort Worth

Tarrant County Plaza Building, 201 Burnett St., Fort Worth

Villages of Woodland Springs Amenity Center, 12209 Timberland Blvd., Fort Worth

Worth Heights Community Center, 3551 New York Ave., Fort Worth

Asia Times Square, 2615 W. Pioneer Parkway, Grand Prairie

Lake Park Operations Center, 5610 Lake Ridge Parkway, Grand Prairie

Grapevine Convention Center, 1209 S. Main St., Grapevine

Haltom City Northeast Center, 3201 Friendly Lane, Haltom City

Haslet Public Library, 100 Gammil St., Haslet

Hurst Recreation Center, 700 Mary Drive, Hurst

Keller Town Hall, 1100 Bear Creek Parkway, Keller

Mansfield Subcourthouse, 1100 E. Broad St., Mansfield

Richland Hills Community Center, 3204 Diana Drive, Richland Hills

River Oaks City Hall, 4900 River Oaks Blvd., River Oaks

John M. Tidwell Middle School, 3937 Haslet‐Roanoke Road, Roanoke

Eagle Mountain‐Saginaw School Administration Building 6, training room, 1200 Old Decatur Road, Saginaw

Sansom Park City Hall, 5705 Azle Ave.

Southlake Town Hall, 1400 Main St.

Watauga City Hall, 7105 Whitley Road, Watauga

Source: Tarrant County Elections

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