Northeast Tarrant

Birdville, Keller schools push for strong voter turnout

With a week left in this election season, Birdville and Keller school district officials are focusing on educating residents and urging them to vote.

Those who oppose the school districts’ bond elections are doing the same.

Birdville has $163.2 million in bonds on the ballot to rebuild three of its oldest campuses, upgrade technology at all schools and improve security. Keller’s $169.5 million bond proposal would build three schools, renovate and expand an existing school to make it a career training center, renovate and add on to Keller High School, and upgrade security and technology.

For Birdville, this is the second bond election in 18 months. Voters rejected a $183.2 million bond in May 2013.

Oppostion to the bond election in both districts has come from the group Direct Action Texas, which says the districts are not providing enough information about debt and bond payments. Its website, www.isdbondage.com, details the amount of bond debt it says each district would take on if the bond passes is posted.

A political action committee, Birdville Backers, was formed to support the bond plan there.

“The needs of the students in this district are severe and require BISD citizens to be well informed about the issues facing our schools,” PAC Co-Chairman Mark Wood said in a news release.

The bond proposals are drawing strong numbers in early voting. In the first seven days, 7,499 people voted in Birdville and 9,603 in Keller. For Birdville’s May 2013 bond package, 5,898 people voted early, records show.

Downsizing the bond amount

Those who support the bond issue said voter apathy played a role when the last such proposal failed.

“I don’t think the parents of Birdville will let that happen again,” said Kristin Wheeler, a Birdville parent and a member of the 2014 bond committee.

Some of those parents who voted against the last bond did not like the plan to consolidate students from four elementary schools into two, according to district surveys. Officials removed consolidation plans and instead focused on addressing the buildings with the most pressing needs and trimming the overall cost.

This year’s proposal is $20 million less than the one voters rejected.

“The committee wanted to come back with a lower bond and be sensitive to that concern,” said Mark Thomas, director of communications for the Birdville district.

Birdville has 17 schools built in the 1950s and ’60s. The Academy at West Birdville, Birdville Elementary School and North Richland Middle School all have significant problems and would be rebuilt if the bond issue passes.

Wheeler said North Richland Middle has 300 students in portable classrooms throughout the school day. The bond proposal would eliminate 30 portables across the district. Those that remain would get security fencing.

Thomas said, “Ultimately, we’d like to have all the portables gone, but until then, we realize we need to protect them.”

Wheeler said she was urging parents to vote so they can determine what kind of schools their children attend. Those who don’t have children in school can look at the bond issue as an investment. For a resident with a $120,000 home, the monthly tax increase would be $3.

“It’s an investment you’re making in your entire community. You don’t move into your home and never expect to renovate,” she said. “If you do not make these small investments in the district, you stand to lose property value. People will stop moving to Birdville.”

Keller looks to the future

Keller officials are also pushing residents to get out and vote.

“I think we’re much more likely to get the true wishes of the community if we get a lot of folks out,” Superintendent Randy Reid said.

The Keller district is running a “4ward the Facts” campaign to encourage residents to get informed about the bond, tell four friends and go to the polls.

If approved, the Keller school bond issue would not raise the tax rate, already at the 50-cent maximum for bond debt. The district can raise additional funds at the current rate because of increasing tax valuations, refinancing debt at lower interest and paying off bonds early.

In answer to critics who say Keller carries too much debt, officials point to the district’s rapid growth.

Beverly Dixon, a Keller parent and a member of the bond committee, said, “No district in Tarrant County has the same level of debt, but no other district had to build 22 campuses in 12 years.”

Enrollment in the district, now at 34,000, has doubled since 2000 and more than tripled since 1994.

Reid said district’s debt would still be below Texas Education Agency guidelines if the bond issue passes. The TEA recommends that principal debt not exceed 10 percent of taxable values. The Keller district has about $12 billion in taxable value and would have $826 million in debt if the bond is approved, or about 7 percent.

The district’s tax rate has remained unchanged for four years, property tax values have gone up, especially in the last year.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Reid said. “People want their values to go up when they sell, but they don’t want to pay more in taxes. We need to look at the school district as an investment in the community as a whole. A lot of our students come back and live in the community. We’re creating a better future for ourselves.”

Dixon also talked about the bond as an investment for the future.

“People are coming here for the community and for the school district,” she said. “We’re supporting our community. Our children are our future.”

This story was originally published October 27, 2014 4:08 PM.

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