Keller school district officials are moving forward with plans for a possible November bond election while continuing to educate the community about why the various components are needed.
“We just need to be mindful that people are curious, not adversarial, but they want to know what’s going on,” said Trustee Cindy Lotton. “I think the fact that we have this many questions is a positive.”
Trustees and administrators discussed the potential bond package at the May 29 board meeting. After two weeks of community meetings—one at each of the four high schools—district officials have gathered dozens of questions.
Hudson Huff, executive director of planning and construction, said that a lot of parents did not understand the push for a career and technical education (CTE) facility. They also expressed concerns about enrollment increases at Keller High and Indian Springs Middle schools. The current concept involves turning South Keller Intermediate School into a CTE center, making ISMS a fifth through eighth grade campus. Sending all high school students east of U.S. Highway 377 to Keller High would make the feeder patterns more pure. Both KHS and ISMS would need significant additions and Bear Creek Intermediate would need a small addition to handle more students.
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The school district can raise more than $150 million in a bond package without raising taxes. Keller schools are already at the 50 cent cap on the tax rate for bond indebtedness, but growth in the tax base, paying off debt early and refinancing at lower rates allows for the bond. Even if the bond wasn’t approved by voters, the tax rate would remain at the current level, officials said.
“Out of the box” solutions
Board member Brad Schofield lauded district officials for coming up with creative solutions to better utilize district facilities and deal with numerous future issues in one bond.
“It may be a little scary because it’s a little out of the box, but when you really look at it, it starts to make a lot of sense,” Schofield said.
In addition to the CTE facility and school expansions, the bond could include millions in repairs and renovations to older campuses. One primary goal is making all school entries have secure vestibules, requiring renovations at Keller High, Fossil Ridge High, Keller Middle, Chisholm Trail Intermediate, Parkwood Hill Intermediate, South Keller intermediate and Trinity Meadows Intermediate schools. Other potential big ticket items are an elementary school on land the district owns southwest of Interstate 35W and Basswood Boulevard, and a fifth through eighth grade campus and another preschool center, also on the southwest side.
At the first community forum—held May 15 at Keller High—parents asked a lot of questions about career and technology courses. At subsequent forums, Casey Stone, director of career and technical education, gave presentations on career and technical education.
Stone said that about 56 percent of students this past year were enrolled in one or more CTE courses. Next year, that percentage goes up to about 70 percent. Career training is gaining new popularity with the state mandate for eighth graders to declare an endorsement (similar to a major) for their high school years.
The most popular endorsement for KISD eighth graders this spring was the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) group, Stone said. This line of study includes medical careers, engineering and computer science. Many of the CTE categories lead to four-year college and not just culminate in certification or apprenticeship in trades. CTE courses are much more than the old school perception of vocational/technical training, officials said.
Lotton said that the bigger focus on career and technical education is something that she has wanted for longer than the decade she has served on the school board.
In addition to educating the community, school officials face other challenges.
Huff said that construction costs are on the rise, with the energy boom driving the Texas construction market. An added local factor is the recent passage of several sizable bonds, including a $663 million package for Arlington schools.
“It’s making for a back log for general contractors,” Huff said.
The next bond committee meeting was set for June 10, after The Keller Citizen press time.