Keller school district officials are looking at a possible November 2014 bond election to deal with enrollment growth, the new mandate for more graduation options and aging facilities and infrastructure.
At a Dec. 17 special meeting, administrators, trustees and consultants talked about district needs and the potential scope of what would be the first bond for Keller schools since 2008.
“The good thing is we can go to voters and say, ‘Your tax rate is not going up,’” said Mark Youngs, chief financial officer.
Youngs estimates that Keller schools could raise as much as $143 million in the next bond without raising taxes because of the growing tax base. The district is already at the state cap of 50 cents per $100 in assessed value for bond indebtedness.
“We want to look at something shy of the $143 million that addresses many of these needs,” said Superintendent Randy Reid. “We want to look at a November election so we have the next six months to identify projects and priorities and to have the opportunity for community involvement.”
While the district is not growing as fast as it did in the early to mid 2000s, officials still expect the district to grow at 300 to 400 students a year for the next several years.
Bob Templeton, demographics consultant, said he expects the Keller school district to reach enrollment of 36,000 in four to eight years, dependent on the rate of new housing development. Current enrollment is close to 34,000.
Most of the growth is on the western side of the district, with the biggest project on the horizon being the West Fork development with room for about 1,200 more homes just west of Interstate 35W near Basswood Boulevard. Officials expect to need at least one more elementary school and another pre-kindergarten facility (or expansions at existing schools) to handle growth.
High school challenges
The rising number of high school students in the district and the recent state mandate to improve Career and Technology offerings are having an impact on Keller schools.
Timber Creek High School’s current enrollment is almost 2,800, now the largest school in the district. Until construction on a classroom wing is completed next August, the school is using portable buildings. According to demographic projections, more than 3,000 students will attend Timber Creek in 2015-16.
With the passage of House Bill 5 earlier this year, school districts are required to offer endorsements on diplomas, several of them with an emphasis on Career and Technology Education (CTE).
Casey Stone, director of career and technical education, called CTE “a sleeping giant” in the Keller school district.
“If we were looking for a catalyst to wake this sleeping giant we have it in House Bill 5,” Stone said.
Keller is behind a number of area districts in CTE programs. About 150 KISD students are going to Birdville for courses in cosmetology, automotive technology and construction.
Many of the courses that remain in Keller are taught from text books instead of using technology or hands-on learning experiences, Stone said.
Stone proposed that the district consider a retail type CTE facility with storefronts where, for instance, culinary arts students could host a bistro or cater events, cosmetology students could staff a salon and computer science students could repair devices. By having one facility for upper-level CTE courses, the district would not have to try to provide advanced equipment on every campus.
Reid said that he would envision juniors and seniors spending 90-minutes to half a day at the CTE center while taking core classes and participating in extra-curricular activities on their home campuses.
Having some high school students at another facility for part of the day would have a side benefit of relieving some of the crowding and space issues on campuses, Reid said.
District officials said that a CTE center could cost from $30 million to $48 million, depending on how it is set up and whether it would require a cafeteria and gym space.
Renovations and repairs
Administrators also discussed facility needs, many of them determined by the recent assessment performed by the SHW Group.
Hudson Huff, director of construction and planning, said that four intermediate schools, along with Fossil Ridge and Keller high schools, lack secure entry vestibules. Officials estimate that changes to the six campuses would cost about $8 million.
Other renovations are needed at some of the district’s oldest schools, including Keller High, Florence Elementary and Parkview Elementary. Keller schools also need upgrades to the technology infrastructure, primarily routers and servers. A number of campuses also have aging mechanical and plumbing systems that need to be replaced, Huff said.
Re-establishing the district’s Citizen’s Bond Advisory Committee is key in moving the projects forward.
Reid said that officials would begin to look at options in more depth and form committees to look at the bond in early 2014.