Editor’s note: as part of The Community News’ ongoing coverage of the November bond election for Aledo Independent School District, we are featuring “Five Questions With” for a three part series. In this second part of the series, we spoke to Mercedes Mayer, who served on the bond steering committee, about the process for the bond proposal. This article originally appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of The Community News.
Why did the group choose the particular projects in the bond proposal? Why did you feel these needs were most urgent?
The Bond Steering Committee had a crash course on demographics, school finance, bonding capacity, and the Aledo ISD’s long-range growth plan and facilities assessment based on the extensive work the AISD 2025 Committee completed before us. It was a complete consensus that the most urgent needs were to relieve overcrowding at the middle-school level and also expand opportunities for the district’s Ag-Science and CTE students. First and foremost, we wanted to focus on helping our students. It was also very clear that the committee wanted the recommended projects to fall below the lower end of the preliminary bond capacity analysis ($85.39 million). This would both avoid the need to max out our I&S tax rate and also (hopefully) give the district flexibility and increased bonding capacity when it’s time to call another bond in the near future.
Why was the decision made to go ahead and propose a junior high when the district is also in need of Elementary No. 6, and is in the process of purchasing the land for it?
There is no doubt the committee felt like Elementary No. 6 will need to happen very soon but that would require an additional $35 million-plus that we weren’t comfortable asking the community to spend. By proposing the shift to close McAnally as an intermediate school and repurpose it as Vandagriff Elementary thus adding sixth grade to middle school – the grade configuration proposed by the 2025 Committee – we were creating capacity at both the middle school and elementary levels while only building one campus. With additional space available for growth at Walsh Elementary plus the extra 200-plus spaces available if Vandagriff students move to McAnally, we could more comfortably hold off a little longer on building Elementary No. 6.
How were the projects whittled down to “needs” vs. “wants”? Are there any items in the bond that you personally feel fall under “wants,” such as awning or field turf?
The decision of needs versus wants really came down to numbers – the district is growing rapidly and a middle school and elementary school both need to be built in the next two-to-five years. Bonding capacity numbers versus costs to complete projects helped to dictate our decisions, as well. Packaging the new middle school with the repurposing of McAnally as Vandagriff accomplished the district’s needs and affects a large number of students at what we felt like was a comfortable ask for the community.
As a committee, we did not get into the small details of each project. However, I feel like the Board of Trustees began that process of making sure the dollars that are going to be spent if the bond passes are for items that are needs, as evidenced by them getting the $80,687,771 committee recommendation down to a $72,950,000 bond election. I feel confident they would continue that process if the bond passes and as bidding begins.
Were members of the committee active participants in the discussion? What concerns and questions were raised and how were they addressed?
Committee members were very active participants, and I believe everyone felt like their opinion mattered and their voice could be heard. We had a process where we’d listen to part of a presentation, discuss the matter with our small group/table and then bring those questions or concerns out into the larger group. It says a lot that a committee of parents, grandparents, business owners, teachers, bankers, lawyers, stay-at-home-moms, etc., came to a consensus on what we felt would both have a positive impact on Aledo ISD students as well as be a fiscally responsible solution on our first vote for a recommendation.
What else would you like the public to know about the bond proposal?
We openly discussed our concerns about the community’s trust level and how it would affect the ability to pass a bond. I think the Board was listening and immediately took that into consideration when discussing and ultimately calling the bond election.
Also, I have heard the concern that the district is building schools that are too nice or have too many upgrades, etc. Having a different perspective coming from a different district, I can tell you that schools with collaborative learning spaces, moveable furniture and energy efficiency are the standard.