Keller school district leaders to consider career and technology center

02/23/2014 4:49 PM

02/23/2014 4:50 PM

School district officials plan to hire an architect next month to provide options and costs for a career and technical education center, where students could prepare for vocations in such fields as culinary arts, computer maintenance and construction.

“We are strongly considering a CTE center being part of the bond,” Superintendent Randy Reid said at a recent board meeting. “One of the challenges is that can look a variety of different ways.”

Earlier this month, administrators convened a citizens’ bond advisory committee to study priorities for a possible November bond election. Because of rising property values, bond payoffs and refinancing, Keller schools could raise $140 million in a bond issue with no new taxes. The school district is already at the 50-cent state cap on the rate for bond debt.

The cost of a career and technology center could range from $20 million to $60 million, depending on its size and equipment. Officials want an architecture firm to present facility trends, options and pricing.

Reid said that a subcommittee focused on career and technical education needs would help select an architect from those who respond to the district’s request for qualifications. Trustees would likely vote on a firm at the March 27 board meeting. Funds to pay for the work would come from remaining 2008 bond money.

Currently, about 150 students from the Keller district attend classes at the Birdville school district’s Career and Technology Center in North Richland Hills. Other districts that have career and tech centers include Mansfield and Hurst-Euless-Bedford.

College not for everyone

The focus on a career and technical education center represents a shift for Keller schools.

“We want to offer our kids more choices than just a college-bound program,” board President Jim Stitt said. “Not everyone is going to college.”

Said Reid: “It’s been a lacking program in our district even prior to House Bill 5.”

House Bill 5, approved by Texas legislators in the 2013 session, mandates that districts give students multiple pathways to graduation, especially those that focus on training for careers.

A single CTE center serving all four high schools would provide many advantages for students, Reid said. Individual schools can’t offer the depth of programs in some areas because of space and facility shortcomings. Expensive equipment can be shared by all the students in a program, as can top teachers who often have small classes at upper levels in CTE classes.

If trustees opt to move forward with a November bond and it meets voter approval, a CTE center could be completed as early as August 2016.

Bond committee meetings

Meanwhile, the district’s Citizens Bond Advisory Committee has been looking at other priorities for the possible bond election.

About 30 residents, ranging from a high school student to senior citizens, met Feb. 12 and Tuesday and will continue to meet for about three months to develop recommendations for the school board.

At the first few meetings, administrators gave members overviews of enrollment projections, facility needs, technology and security issues, and district finances.

“I think it’s been an invaluable process so far,” said Melissa Zihlman of Keller, who has children attending Keller-Harvel Elementary School. “The information is very transparent, and officials really encourage our input.”

Former board President Bob Apetz brings a historical perspective to the committee. He was a trustee from 2000 to 2009 while Keller had successful bond elections in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2008. A 2004 bond issue failed.

“I think there’s a lot of things out there we need to take a look at and put priority to and see if we can fit them in the confines of the dollars we have,” Apetz said.

Besides the career and technical center, possible items for the next bond include a new elementary school, which could be the district’s last. The district also wants to upgrade technology and security and make renovations on aging campuses.

The next meeting for the committee is 6 p.m. March 18 in the Education Center, 350 Keller Parkway. Meetings are open to the public.

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