Fort Worth

Voters give big OK to $750 million bond package for Fort Worth schools

A record $750 million bond package for Fort Worth schools was easily approved by voters Tuesday night, a sign that school leaders say shows the community wants to invest in the future workforce by improving schools.

In unofficial results, 78 percent of votes were in favor of the bond package, while 26 percent were against with 148 out of 148 precincts reporting. The district’s tax ratification election — called a “penny swap” and which will restructure a portion of the tax rate — was easily winning as well. Seventy-four percent voted in favor of the tax swap with 22 percent against.

“We are pleased that the voters seem to understand the importance of the investment in our students,” said Kent Scribner, superintendent of Fort Worth schools. “Fort Worth is a community that, I believe, understands the importance of education — as go the schools, so goes the city.”

It’s the third bond package in 10 years — all three total more than $1.8 billion — passed by Fort Worth school district voters.

More than 16,500 people who live in the Fort Worth school district cast votes in the election. That’s just 7 percent of the district’s 241,514 registered voters.

Elections to allow liquor stores in Euless and build ballparks in Bedford were also ahead.

In the Aledo school district, both propositions failed.

Proposition A, which allocated $64.2 million for a new 900-student middle school and renovation of an existing building to create an elementary school, failed with 71 percent against and 29 for, according to final unofficial tallies released by Parker County.

Proposition B, which would allocate about $8.7 million to help pay for upgrades in learning spaces for agricultural, career and technology classes, failed 66 percent to 34 percent.

“All bond election votes are the results of the will of the owners of Aledo ISD,” said Superintendent Derek Citty in a statement posted on Facebook. “I’m disappointed, but respect the direction given by the voting electorate. I greatly appreciate the hard work put into these propositions by citizens and by staff. We will be discussing next steps with the Board of Trustees in the coming weeks.”

Voters in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district overwhelmingly approved a $524.7 million bond package, 68 percent to 32 percent with 20 out of 20 precincts reporting. The bond package will pay for a fourth high school, land purchases for future schools and a new natatorium in partnership with the YMCA.

“We thank our voters for their support and for recognizing that we need to plan today to be prepared for the students who arrive tomorrow,” Jim F. Chadwell, superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw schools, said in a statement. “... We appreciate the trust our community has in their school district to effectively plan for growth and manage finances in preparation for the future.”

The results are posted by the Tarrant County Elections Office.

The three Tarrant-area school districts were among 50 in Texas holding bond elections Tuesday. The bond packages in Fort Worth and Eagle Mountain-Saginaw schools were among the top five presented to Texas voters.

‘Grateful to the voters’

In Fort Worth, school district officials pitched the bond package with the promise that the tax rate won’t increase. The biggest portion of the $750 million bond program — an estimated $581 million — pays for improvements to the district’s 14 neighborhood schools. About $52 million addresses overcrowding and student growth at Tanglewood and Waverly Park elementary schools.

Scribner said the results are a sign that voters understand the connection between education and the local economy.

Even though the votes have not yet been canvassed, the district can begin planning projects and hiring a project manager, architectural, engineering and design experts, Scribner said.

He said administrators will hit the ground running Wednesday with a “jackrabbit start” to the bond program.

The tax ratification election will allow the Fort Worth school district to restructure its tax rate and move 2 cents from one tax pool to another. It is referred to as a “tax swap” or “penny swap.” Fort Worth school leaders said it will generate more than $23 million annually, including a boost in state funding.

Tobi Jackson, president of the Fort Worth school board, said she is “extremely grateful to the voters of Fort Worth for approving the largest bond in the history of Tarrant County for our children, students, employees and this city’s future.”

Jackson said the “penny swap” is good business because it will generate dollars to further improve schools.

Bill Thornton, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, said the bond’s passage shows voters were willing to invest in students.

“To remain competitive in business, we need a well-educated and skilled workforce, with up-to-date infrastructure and curriculum in our public schools to produce it,” Thornton said in a statement.

‘Believe in public schools’

The existing Tanglewood schools will get a $6 million renovation to address space needs. A new campus will be built to accommodate growth in the attendance zone that includes homes near TCU. About $40 million will be used to relocate three specialized campuses — the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences, World Languages Institute and the Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

The latter drew opposition from parents and school supporters who questioned plans to move the all-male YMLA closer to Dunbar High School. Supporters of YMLA didn’t like plans for the two schools to share athletic facilities.

Penni Askew, who has a son who attends YMLA, voted against the bond package, but in favor of the tax swap.

“I do believe in public schools and I want all the kids in Fort Worth ISD to succeed,” Askew said, explaining that she voted against the bond because she worried YMLA’s extracurricular activities will get folded into Dunbar High School.

Despite her vote against the bond program, Askew said she believed it would pass and expected parents and allies of the school to continue to voice their concerns as the bond program is implemented.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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