Arlington passes historic bond package

By Monica S. Nagy and Susan Schrock -,

May 10, 2014 07:23 PM

Arlington voters made history Saturday night when they overwhelmingly approved the school district’s $663 million all-or-nothing bond package — the largest in Tarrant County history.

With the final vote counted, the sweeping bond package — which includes updates to virtually every school while tearing down an aging junior high school — was supported by 69.7 percent of the voters.

Arlington voters also selected a new school board member, two City Council members and approved a quarter-cent sales tax to smooth out bumpy streets, according to unofficial results as of late Saturday night.

The school district will soon begin construction on myriad projects, including a $46 million career and technical center, a $25 million athletic complex, a $32 million fine-arts center, a $2.5 million agricultural science facility and $60 million in multipurpose activity centers.

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School board President Bowie Hogg said he knew the district had overwhelming support going into the election, but the turnout solidified how much the “community cares.”

“It’s an overwhelming message by the community that we support public schools and we are not going to sit back and not allow our schools to be the best they can be,” Hogg said.

The tax rate will now go up as much as 15 cents from 2016 to 2020, which will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $126 a year, according to the district. The average home value in the district is $115,287.

The property tax rate will jump from $1.29 to $1.44.

Sixty new positions will be created over the next five years, from attendance clerks to principals, but 22 staff positions will be cut from junior high schools.

Hutcheson Junior High will be demolished. Its students, along with ones from the Newcomer Center, Venture High School and Ferguson Junior High, will be rezoned starting in 2015-16.

“We are pleased that the voters supported this bond program, which will allow the district to implement a long-range facilities master plan designed to honor tradition while investing in the future,” Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said in a prepared statement.

“The items included will allow us to provide increased access and opportunities for our students in order to meet our mission to empower and engage all students to be contributing, responsible citizens reaching their maximum potential through relevant, innovative and rigorous learning experiences.”

Anti-bond activist Faith Bussey, who sued the district earlier this week for allegedly violating the election code, said she isn’t ready to give up.

The Arlington resident led the political action committee, It’s OK to Vote No, Arlington.

Bussey said the group is going to make sure none of the bond-backers get contracts with the district, and turn profit on the taxpayers’ dime.

“We are going to make sure the campaign donors did it for altruistic reasons,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the children — then who was it for?”

All the recommendations on the ballot came from a volunteer committee that spent five months analyzing the results of a facilities audit and community feedback.

“… We are going to appoint a bond oversight committee, made up of a group of citizens, to make sure the bond is implemented as we told the voters it would be,” Hogg said of the district’s next move.

School board seats

One of the women who served on the district’s bond committee, 45-year-old Kecia Mays of Grand Prairie, earned a double win Saturday night when the bond passed and she earned a seat on the school board.

Mays ran against 54-year old Bridgett Davis, who had hoped to clinch the board seat formerly held by Tony Pompa.

Mays is an auditor with the state comptroller’s office and has three sons in the Barnett Junior High and Bowie High feeder system. She received 54.7 percent of the vote to Davis’ 45.3.

“It feels wonderful,” Mays said of her win. “I feel comfortable and it’s just a natural step going forward.”

Davis is a retired elementary school teacher and lives in the Miller Elementary, Young Junior High and Martin High feeder system.

“I am just going to continue to be who I am,” Davis said after her loss.

Because Arlington school board seats are at-large, Bowie Hogg, 36, who was unopposed for his current Place 6 seat, could lose the board presidency in the summer if trustees pick someone else.

Council races

Arlington City Council District 6 incumbent Robert Shepard and District 7 incumbent Jimmy Bennett were both elected to their fourth two-year terms. Shepard, an attorney, and Bennett, a certified public accountant, represent the entire city in their at-large positions.

Shepard, 55, had a significant lead over challenger Chris Dobson, with 69.64 percent of the vote. Dobson, 35, a massage therapist who is studying for a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at Arlington, has run for the council three times previously. Dobson only garnered 30.36 percent of the vote.

“It’s humbling to say the least. It’s good to know that the citizens have the confidence in me and in my colleagues on city council and believe what we’ve been doing is heading the city in the correct direction,” Shepard said.

Bennett, 53, led first-time political candidate Gerald Kern with 71.13 percent of the vote to Kern’s 28.87. Kern, 38, owns Elite Concierge and Luxury Transportation, a company that provides celebrity bookings and other services.

“I’m very happy the citizens have once again stated in a definitive manner that what I have done on council and what the council as a whole has been doing is what is in their best interest,” Bennett said. “I’m very pleased with the statement they’ve made on my behalf and feel as though the next two years are filled with opportunity and I look forward to being part of what is to come for our city.”

Street maintenance

Voters also approved renewing the quarter-cent street maintenance sales tax for the third straight time with 81.03 percent of the vote for and 18.97 against.

The tax, which was first approved in 2002 and expires every four years unless renewed, generates revenue to repair Arlington’s 3,000-lane-mile network of roads. Between 90 and 95 percent of all street maintenance is paid for through the tax, which has generated about $123.6 million since 2002, officials have said.