Superintendent Randy Reid sees several big issues on the horizon for Keller schools in 2014: a possible November bond election, the changes brought about by House Bill 5 and a potential resolution to the public education finance lawsuit.
“All those things are both opportunities and challenges,” Reid said. “Because they are really time consuming, we need to make sure we handle all of them well.”
Administrators and trustees recently began in-depth discussion of the next bond package, which could go as high as $143 million without raising the tax rate due to growth in property values.
If called and approved by voters, the funds could build an additional elementary school and a dedicated career and technology education (CTE) center and pay for repairs and renovations at older campuses.
Officials estimate that an elementary school would cost about $19 million and a CTE center could run more than $40 million, depending on the programs.
A recent needs assessment by the SHW Group uncovered more than $100 million in repairs, renovations and upgrades suggested in the next five to ten years.
“Three times as much needs to be done as we have dollar capacity to deal with in a bond election, so we’re prioritizing needs,” Reid said. “We need to plan for the longer term.”
Reid said that the Northwest school district is now in the high growth mode that Keller schools experienced a decade ago. Keller had to put most of its resources into new schools, just as Northwest is doing now.
Keller is still expected to grow by 300 to 400 students a year for the next several years but will need few new facilities. Now officials need to look at older buildings to ensure that the quality of education remains high for all students, Reid said.
Officials may also need to add classroom space for pre-kindergarten students, a fast-growing segment of the KISD population due to changing demographics. With more low-income families in the district, providing services to qualified children is a way to improve future academic success.
Since the Keller Early Learning Center opened in 2010, the number of qualified families requesting preschool services has skyrocketed. Reid said that the Early Learning Center is full and some students are now being placed in satellite programs on elementary campuses.
“It’s a temporary solution, and we need a longer term solution,” he said.
House Bill 5
With the passage of House Bill 5, school districts must offer more pathways to graduation through various endorsements on diplomas. The five required endorsements are arts and humanities, business and industry, multidisciplinary, public services and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Because of House Bill 5 and changing demographics in the district, expanding CTE course offerings will be a big emphasis in 2014, Reid said.
“I think a CTE facility will be the best way to meet the needs of children in those programs, and we won’t need to replicate them on every campus. It will also create some space relief in schools,” he said.
In addition to expanding diploma options, House Bill 5 did away with the four-by-four requirement for four years of certain advanced math and science courses and reduced the number of end-of-course exams needed to graduate, from 15 to five.
“Everyone may not take physics or Algebra II, but I think we will have a larger number of kids attempting rigorous coursework,” Reid said. “Every endorsement will have rigorous pathways, but it may be a different type of rigor.”
Reid expects the lawsuit Keller and many other Texas school districts filed against the state will wind its way through appeals with the mandate for the Legislature to change the funding system.
The funding formula was found to be unconstitutional in state district court and the trial is set to reopen early this month.
Most educators around the state believe that lawmakers will be required to change education financing methods, but it may take time.
Reid is hopeful that the end result will be more resources for Keller schools. The district has below average funding per student but above average academic performance, as demonstrated by its five star rating in the Texas Comptroller’s Financial Allocation Study of Texas (FAST) report.
Keller was the only Tarrant district to make the list for three straight years.
“We’ve performed well, and I think we have the potential for more. The negative is we don’t know what it’s going to look like,” he said.
Educators and families alike will have to await the outcome of the lawsuit while there is work to be done in other areas.