The Young Men’s Leadership Academy would be moved to the Dunbar High School campus site under a proposed bond program. Ron Jenkins Star-Telegram archives
The Young Men’s Leadership Academy would be moved to the Dunbar High School campus site under a proposed bond program. Ron Jenkins Star-Telegram archives

Fort Worth

Fort Worth schools to put $749.7 million bond program before voters in November

August 21, 2017 06:36 PM

UPDATED August 21, 2017 10:58 PM

FORT WORTH

A new elementary school to ease overcrowding at Tanglewood Elementary, renovations at 13 high schools and the relocation of two specialty campuses are among the high-profile items in a $749.7 million bond package approved by Fort Worth school trustees Monday.

The bond package, the largest in Tarrant County history, will go before voters on Nov. 7.

School district officials said that the bond package would not require a tax rate increase because of soaring property values.

The school board voted 8-0 in favor of calling a bond election during a special meeting Monday. Trustee Judy Needham was not present for the vote.

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“This bond program is extremely important,” Superintendent Kent Scribner said. “We are already seeing success in our academic strategies with early literacy and middle-years math. This will allow us to invest in our capital infrastructure and focus on the college and career aspect as well.”

The bond program includes an estimated $52.1 million to address overcrowding and campus growth in several areas of the district, including a new elementary for families that live in the Tanglewood school boundary near TCU. Parents have been vocal with their concerns about building a new school, including a potential redrawn attendance zone and saying they don’t want it to diminish Tanglewood’s exemplary culture.

Besides constructing a new elementary school, the district plans to make renovations to the existing Tanglewood Elementary.

Trustee Ann Sutherland said the Tanglewood-related projects are important because of the critical needs there. She added that overall the bond program is greatly needed.

“It’s vital,” Sutherland said. “We still have a growing enrollment and we have increasing need for special programs and we don’t have room for them.”

About $40.8 million would be spent to relocate and renovate two specialty schools. Preliminary plans call for the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences, or TABS, to move from 3813 Valentine St. to the Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus in downtown Fort Worth. The Young Men’s Leadership Academy would move from 5100 Willie St. to the Dunbar High School campus.

The plan also includes about $1 million to move the World Languages Institute from Magnolia Avenue to the former Leonard Sixth Grade Center, which isn’t being used for classes. Earlier plans called for moving the institute to the Western Hills High School campus, but families with students in the institute spoke out against those plans.

Juan Turcios and his son, Carlos, said this plan is better.

“It’s better than being separated. We will take that for now,” Juan Turcios said after the vote.

Two elections at once

Trustees approved calling the bond election a week after they OK’d holding a tax ratification election on the same date.

The ratification would let the school district restructure its tax rate and move 2 cents from one tax pool to another — it’s called a tax swap — which district officials say will generate more than $23 million annually, including a boost in state funding.

“Voting, ‘yes’ does not increase their taxes by 2 cents,” said Elsie I. Schiro, the district’s chief financial officer, after a recent school board workshop.

Schiro: We have the debt capacity to finance up to $100 million in bonds annually for next 10 years without raising the current tax rate.

— Fort Worth ISD (@FortWorth_ISD) August 8, 2017

Why? Because the overall tax rate of $1.352 per $100 valuation is not changing — it’s just being restructured. The overall tax rate has two sides: Maintenance and operations ($1.04) and debt service (31.2 cents). Under ratification, the tax pools would change to $1.06 and 29.2 cents, respectively.

While the 2-cent swap won’t increase the tax rate, taxpayers can expect to see a spike in the property taxes they pay because their home values have been rising.

Using the current tax rate, the owner of a single-family home valued at $131,807 — the average value in the school district— would have a school tax bill of $1,782.03, with no exemptions. Last year— when the tax rate was the same but the average home value was $118,907 — the school tax bill would have been $1,607.62, with no exemptions.

It’s complicated and school district leaders acknowledge that they will have to educate voters about the two elections and the financial implications. Scribner said the district will have an educational campaign.

One message for voters is that the two ballot measures work in unison.

“They are both essential,” Scribner said. “It will be an opportunity for us to raise significant funds to invest in our students, to invest in our schools, with no tax rate increase.”

Other significant bond elections

In May, Northwest school district voters approved a $399 million bond package that included $264 million to build four elementary schools, construct additions at eight campuses and purchase land for future schools.

Also in May, Mansfield school district voters OK’d a $275 million bond package that includes money for the construction of three new schools in the southeast part of the district and repairs, renovations, technology, playground equipment and security at existing schools.

And Southlake Carroll school district voters approved a bond package worth $208 million, most of which will be used to replace aging mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, resurface playgrounds, upgrade the technology infrastructure and for various remodeling and repair projects.

In May 2016, voters in the Grapevine-Colleyville approved almost $249 million in bonds to rebuild a school, add indoor practice facilities and classrooms and upgrade technology, safety and infrastructure items.

In May 2014, Arlington school voters approved a $663 million bond package, which was described as Tarrant County’s largest in history at that time.

In November 2013, Fort Worth school district voters approved an estimated $490 million bond package for added classrooms, expanded pre-kindergarten to all students and added high-tech devices to help high school students in the digital age.

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith:

817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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Courtesy Fort Worth school district

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Maricar Estrella maricar@star-telegram.com

A closer look

Voters in the Fort Worth school district will decide the fate of an estimated $749.9 million bond program on Nov. 7.

Here’s a snapshot of highlights:

$52.1 million

New elementary school serving families in the current Tanglewood boundary, additions to the existing Tanglewood Elementary, land purchase for future schools, renovations to Waverly Park Elementary.

$40.8 million

Relocation of specialized schools, including the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences and Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

$514.7 million

Renovations to the district’s 13 comprehensive high schools, including classroom additions, library expansions and labs.

$66.2 million

Fine arts and athletic needs, such as a mariachi rehearsal hall at North Side School and new baseball/softball fields at Benbrook Middle-High School. The latter will rely on a land use agreement with the city of Benbrook.