Editor’s note: This story was published in the July 26 issue of The Community News. While staff-written stories are normally reserved for our paid readers and subscribers, we are making this story available. Our subscribers and advertisers make it possible for us to bring a quality newspaper to the community each week. We invite you to subscribe if you do not already do so.
By Bob Buckel
The Community News
The message is two-fold, but simple:
Aledo ISD can build and renovate $141 million worth of school space without adding even a fraction of a cent to the tax rate, and…
They need every bit of it, as soon as possible.
The district’s Bearcat Growth Committee held community meetings July 18 and 23 to give interested residents a chance to learn what committee members have been hearing since January. Twenty-seven people showed up at the first meeting, and another 29 came to Tuesday’s session. Both were held at the Vandagriff Elementary library.
“We know growth is coming,” committee co-chair Christi James said as she kicked off Tuesday’s meeting. “So what are we going to do to prepare for that growth?”
James, co-chair Jim Scott, and superintendent Dr. Susan Bohn each spoke briefly before the group broke into smaller round-table discussions. Each group had at least one BGC member, and Aledo ISD administrators circulated throughout the room to answer questions.
James said she doesn’t have children in Aledo schools right now but noted that as a business owner she is keenly interested in keeping the school district strong.
“Businesses, home values, everything in these communities is only as good as our school system is,” she said.
She said the committee has done its due diligence.
“We’ve left no stone unturned,” she said. “We looked into finances, demographics, we’ve visited each campus — we’ve done a good job addressing the needs and coming to a consensus.”
At the group’s next meeting, Aug. 1, they hope to emerge with a proposal the school board can approve for a Nov. 5 bond election. That proposal will likely include:
- Renovation of Aledo Middle School
- Construction of a second middle school
- Conversion of McAnally Intermediate to an elementary school
- Construction of a new, sixth elementary school
- Renovation of Vandagriff elementary into an early childhood campus, and
- Purchase land for future campuses
Numbers don’t lie
Bohn thanked those who came out for caring enough to invest their time.
“There’s an expectation of excellence in our community, and we appreciate the high standard you hold us to,” she said. “We have some amazing children. What we’re trying to do now is support them through the facilities we provide.”
Scott said this bond study was approached differently from the district’s last bond issue, which did not win voter approval.
“This has been community-led, which is much different from the last bond steering committee,” he said. “We haven’t hired an outside consultant to come in and lead this effort. It’s been led by the community and the school staff, and we’ve brought in demographers, financial consultants, architectural consultants to help us.”
Scott pointed out that Aledo ISD has 6,100 students this year. In five years, that number is expected to grow to more than 8,700.
“Where is the need?” he asked. “It’s at the elementary level and the middle school level. The demographers have been pretty accurate in their projections. We see the growth, particularly at these levels.
“The question is, how do we pay for this in a fiscally responsible manner?”
He noted that the district’s I&S tax rate, which is used solely to service debt, has remained at 42.5 cents since 2015. The M&O tax rate, which has been at $1.17, is projected to go down to $1.06 this year due to legislative action.
“The committee has been adamant that we are not going to recommend that the school board raise that (I&S) tax rate,” he said. “We have whittled it down to keep it under the estimated bond capacity of $141 million.”
After about 30 minutes of small-group discussion, James brought the meeting to a conclusion and said BGC members would be happy to come and make presentations to civic, church or neighborhood groups.
Information distributed at the meeting is posted on the district’s web site aledoisd.org/BGC, and comments are invited there as well.
”It is going to be about communication,” she said. “I challenge you get out there and help people understand the issues and get people to vote. It’s about our kids, making sure we have adequate learning space for them to learn and thrive.”