Arlington voters have a chance to realign their school district for the future through the bond package on the ballot next month. We recommend they take it.
The total for the proposition — $966 million — is eye-popping, but voters throughout the district will get their money’s worth. The vast majority would go to realigning and updating facilities that no longer match the needs of students and families.
And the cost is reasonable, though district officials could do a better job being upfront about what property owners will ultimately pay. (More on that in a moment.)
The biggest items are three new elementary schools to replace old buildings and a new junior high facility. The district will close two elementaries as well, eliminating excess capacity. And every Arlington ISD campus will get needed renovations.
The bond package would reposition the district to serve the changing needs of students going forward. New accommodations for full-day pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds are a must for a district in which nearly three-quarters of students are economically disadvantaged. Arlington will be positioned to take advantage of new state funding for full-day pre-K for certain students, and there’s ample evidence that it helps children get a head start on their education.
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At the other end of the age range, the bond package will help expand the Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center. That will accommodate more high schoolers who are already on promising career paths.
Extracurricular activities will benefit, too. The bond package will ensure that each Arlington high school has a competition-level softball field, an important step to ensure equity between girls and boys sports.
Arlington ISD would also build a $19 million football/track facility for Martin and Seguin high schools to share and upgrade other athletics facilities. Some may question whether a new stadium is absolutely necessary, but district leaders have planned for facilities that fit the community, not the extravagant football palaces that we’ve seen in some suburban districts.
The program will also fund more opportunities for fine arts participation, including new band instruments and uniforms and better theater equipment. Playgrounds throughout the district will be refreshed, made safer and more accessible for special-needs students. And through a land-swap deal with the city of Arlington to acquire the necessary space for the new junior high campus, the district will construct a new park that all residents can enjoy.
These changes will benefit Arlington schools for decades, but there will be some turmoil along the way. Closing schools and relocating a junior high will mean significant rezoning, which can disrupt lives for parents and students. District leaders need to ensure a transparent process that allows for extensive citizen input.
And they should shoot a little straighter on their proposal’s tax impact. They’re touting that the property tax rate won’t increase even as they spend close to a billion dollars. While technically true, that’s only possible because, as district officials acknowledge, homeowners and businesses are seeing their appraisals skyrocket. They’ll pay more in taxes, period.
Don’t forget, also, that the district raised the tax rate for its last bond program, in 2014. Plenty of voters backed those bonds expecting their tax rate to contract after five years.
That said, this year’s bond proposal will create opportunities for students, efficiencies for taxpayers and a brighter future for Arlington. It’s worth the investment.