NEWS HEADLINES

School board eyes debt to pave parking lots, driveways

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, December 1, 2012

”If you want me to go down this road, approve me continuing to go down this road.”

That’s what the Alvord ISD Board of Trustees did Thursday night, as Superintendent Bill Branum sought their blessing on a proposal to issue just over $1 million in Maintenance Tax Notes.

In fact, “going down the road” is the biggest reason the district needs the funds. Major improvements to parking lots and driveways are needed around the middle school and high school campuses, and at the board’s direction, Branum has spent some time since the last meeting investigating ways to get that done.

Tax Maintenance Notes may be the answer, he said. Issuing just over $1 million would cost the district about $85,000 a year for 15 years, at an interest rate of 2.7 percent – although he said it’s possible that could come in lower. That $1-plus million would cost the district $1.3 million, but having all the funds at once would enable them to take advantage of some historically low prices and low interest rates, both of which are likely to go up in the future.

The board plans to meet again next Thursday and vote on whether to issue the bonds.

“A lot of times, when schools do a bond election, all that’s included, and then you’re not left looking around for ways to get it done,” Branum said. “There’s not a whole lot of excess out there to be had when you go in on a project like this.”

The paving was not included in a 2007 bond issue that built the middle school and added a wing to the high school.

Branum told the board he got a rough estimate of the cost to pave the proposed areas and said it’s about $700,000 if asphalt is used, about half that much if the areas are “chip-sealed.”

“I haven’t even bothered to look at concrete,” he said, but that cost would likely be much higher than asphalt.

Several other items are also needed right away, he said, including a new bus with a wheelchair lift, and funds to finish the district’s wireless network and finish installing security cameras at the middle school campus. Those three items will cost about $120,000 to $125,000, Branum said.

“Without doing something – a bond, tax notes – it’s hard to go find a million dollars,” he said. “This is not for what we want to do, but what we need to do. There are lots more things we need.”

Board president John Schedcik agreed.

“We’ve been nickel-and-dime, nickel-and-dime – it’s about time we get this done, for the kids,” he said.

The board also approved a resolution to allow the district to reimburse itself from the Maintenance Tax Note funds, if the notes are issued, to allow it to go ahead and make the other purchases out of its fund balance before the bond funds arrive. The district would then be able to restore that money to its fund balance out of the bond money.

The board could seek more funds from the Maintenance Tax Notes when it meets next Thursday. Branum said if they want to spread it over 20 years, that $85,000-a-month payment would get the district $1.4 million.

“You just want to be sure you’re not worried about making that regular payment each year,” he said.

The district has just over $1.9 million in its investment accounts.

MORE LOCAL CONTROL?

Branum shared with the board a copy of a letter sent by Gov. Rick Perry this week to Michael Williams, the new Commissioner of Education, in which Perry requests the TEA defer for another year the requirement that the end-of-course assessment count as 15 percent of a student’s grade.

The “15-percent rule” has been the subject of much controversy and angst in educational circles since it was proposed by the last legislature.

“He wants to give boards and parents more local control – a great thing if it comes to pass,” Branum said. “They’ll still take the end-of-course test, no matter what, but the 15-percent rule wouldn’t kick in until the following year.

“It’s wrong, unfair and all of the above, the way kids are currently being assessed,” he added. “We have to have an accountability system, but a one-day, one-shot test… There are better ways to do that.”

Perry’s letter says, “I will work with the legislature during the upcoming session to give local districts greater control, while maintaining our strong accountability system.” Senator Dan Patrick filed legislation this week that will permanently make the 15-percent grade provision a local option for school districts.

OTHER ACTION

The school board also heard reports from Alvord Elementary Principal Bridget Williams and Alvord High School Principal Rhett King. Middle School Principal Janis Branum was unable to attend because of basketball games.

Williams reported enrollment of 340 at the elementary campus, with an Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of 96.59 percent. King said the high school has an enrollment of 198 students with an ADA of 97.72 so far this year. Superintendent Branum told the board the middle school’s enrollment was 168, with an ADA of 96.68.

The board also:

  • approved a report stating that on each campus, 100 percent of the teachers of record meet the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements as specified by the TEA.
  • approved allowing Rene Bates to auction off surplus district items on the website www.renebates.com. The McKinney-based company specializes in online auctions of municipal and utility company fleet vehicles and equipment.
  • approved a contract with Wise County Appraisal District for assessment and tax collection services, at a cost of .6489 cents per parcel. The total cost is $5,900, payable in four installments.
  • approved minutes of two previous meetings, and reviewed monthly bills and the tax collection report.
  • met in closed session for about 40 minutes to discuss the possible purchase of real property.

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