The Denton school board is expected to consider whether to call a bond election soon.
Co-chairs for the district’s 2013 Bond Citizens’ Advisory Committee, established in March, presented the board on June 25 with recommendations for future bond projects.
Among the recommendations was construction of a fourth comprehensive high school, a 23rd and 24th elementary school and an eighth middle school, a ninth-grade center addition at Guyer High School, school renovations at existing campuses, energy conservation projects and land acquisition. The committee estimates the expenses for the projects could total more than $329 million. The recommended projects will take the district through the 2019-20 year.
Mike Woods, a committee co-chairman, said the recommendations would provide facilities that will accommodate the increased student enrollment the district faces.
Planning for a bond referendum comes just two years after more than 200 district jobs were eliminated, mostly through attrition, and Woods said the district can’t afford to wait.
“We are absolutely concerned about the bond package in general just because we’re putting a big number in front of voters, but everything in this package is needs-based,” he said. “We have to have a plan in place to be ready.
“We can’t sit around and wait for the absolute perfect time for the planning part. We have to be doing the planning now, so that when the economy turns around and allows us to build buildings, we can take action and do it.”
Woods also said the committee is mindful that the city of Denton recently held a bond election and that it plans to hold another one in 2014. But his group is hopeful that voters remain mindful of the increasing student population and the need for more facilities.
“We’re in a growing and vibrant community, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we have the classroom space for all the students that are coming our direction,” he said.
According to enrollment projections, the Denton school district is expected to grow to more than 30,000 students by 2017 and 35,765 by the 2022-23 school year.
The school board appointed the 37-member advisory committee in March to evaluate the district’s needs for a 10-year period. It also asked the committee to study energy efficiency, “green schools” and sustainable features.
The committee met five times in April and May.
During those meetings, the committee received reports on the district’s student population growth and what’s projected for the next 10 years, Denton’s bond capacity and debt ratio, pricing/cost estimates and building timelines, a breakdown of the district’s utility usage and facility assessments.
Superintendent Jamie Wilson said the committee recommended projects “based on the pending facility needs of the district for the next five years.”
“In order for any bond to be sold, the district will be required to meet the 50-cent test,” he said. By state mandate, the tax rate for debt repayment is capped at 50 cents per $100 valuation. “So property values will determine when we have the capacity to sell the bonds,” Wilson said. “We do not need all of the projects in the first year of the bond, so the district would not need all of the capacity in the first year.
“The most urgent need is comprehensive high school No. 4. That would be the first project after voter approval of the referendum.”
Wilson said the bond package, if an election is called and the referendum approved, could impact the district tax rate. The district’s current tax rate for debt obligations is 49 cents per $100 valuation.
The school board could consider whether it calls a bond election to be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot at a board meeting July 30 or Aug. 13. District officials have said they anticipate the board will take up the issue in August.
“As pressing as the needs are and as financially expedient as it would be to move quickly, the first window we’d have for an election is November,” Board President Charles Stafford said. “As the economy continues to improve, the costs of building materials and constructions cost in general will continue to [rise]. We will be smart to get things going before the prices go up.”
The committee’s top priority is the construction of a fourth comprehensive high school in the eastern portion of the district.
Construction for such a campus, not including inflation, could cost more than $149.6 million, the committee reported. A new high school in the eastern region of the district would alleviate overcrowding at Ryan and Denton high schools and could accommodate a student capacity between 2,600 and 3,000.
“The big issue right now is the busing of all these kids from [U.S. Highway] 380 ... to Ryan High School and DHS,” Woods said. “We’ve got to get a high school out there.”
If the referendum passes, Woods said the new high school will be constructed in phases similarly to how Guyer High was built. He said it will be instructed so it could later include a ninth-grade center and accommodate between 2,600 and 3,000 students.
The committee is also recommending the district construct a 23rd elementary school to open the 2015-16 year at a projected total of more than $23.1 million.
Land for the fourth comprehensive high school and the district’s 23rd elementary school has already been purchased on the U.S. 380 corridor.
According to advisory committee minutes, Wilson indicated that 140 acres located at FM720 between Martop and McCormick roads has been designated for the district’s fourth comprehensive high school.
In May, the school board voted to issue $45 million from the 2007 bond package and among the uses for the funds was planning costs for a fourth comprehensive high school.
Wilson also told committee members the district’s 23rd elementary school will be built in the U.S. 380 corridor, according to meeting minutes.
According to enrollment projections presented to the advisory committee, it’s forecast that three of the four elementary schools along the 380 corridor will be above the district’s functional capacity of 700 students for an elementary school by the 2014-15 school year. It’s projected that enrollment at Navo Middle School, the only middle school along the U.S. 380 corridor, will be more than 1,000 students the 2014-15 year.
An expansion to Guyer High School that would include a ninth-grade center is slated for opening the 2019-20 year if the bond referendum passes, according to the advisory committee’s presentation. Projected costs for the project, not including inflation, total more than $49.9 million.
According to Woods the district has land on its existing campus for the expansion and will not have to purchase additional land.
The expansion would take Guyer’s future capacity to between 2,600 and 3,000 students.
Enrollment at Guyer is projected to grow from 2,198 to 3,010 in the next 10 years, according to a 2012 fourth quarter growth report from Templeton Demographics.
Typically, the Denton district has built high schools to accommodate 2,000 students.
Woods said there was some “spirited debate” among committee members about building large high schools such as the fourth high school and adding the addition onto Guyer. Some committee members wanted to keep 4A high schools; others saw need for bigger high schools. There was also discussion of being a city with two 4A size high schools and two 5A high schools, he said.
Stafford said when costs to construct a high school have nearly doubled since Guyer was built and to spend that amount “and only be able to serve 2,000 kids is fiscally irresponsible and quite frankly unsustainable.” He said the district is looking for a way of serving more students while keeping schools “from becoming so big that the kids lose their identity.”
“It’s a balancing act,” Stafford said.
Board member Jim Alexander said that while he’s been no “fan” of larger high schools, he does like the idea of a ninth-grade center and believes it’s “fiscally prudent.”
Stafford said the district cannot continue to do things it always has but it must look for “smarter more efficient ways of delivering a high-quality education” while being adaptable to change. He said he believes the district is on a path of doing so.
Stafford added that ninth-grade centers will be “superior” in several ways.
“We’ll still be able to use the physical plant things like the gyms and cafeteria setup, and the kids who are ready for them can still go take advanced coursework ... but to a greater extent the ninth graders would be separated from the main campus in a little more protected environment,” he said.
The committee also recommended more than $11 million in renovations for the Ann Windle School for Young Children, Borman Elementary School, Calhoun Middle School, Crownover Middle School, Denton High School, Evers Elementary, Fred Moore High, Ginnings Elementary, Hodge Elementary, McMath Middle School, McNair Elementary, Newton Rayzor Elementary, Rivera Elementary, Ryan High School, Strickland Middle School, W.S. Ryan Elementary and Wilson Elementary.
Also recommended are energy conservation measures including intelligent irrigation, exterior lighting retrofits and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning retrofit at Guyer High, projected to total nearly $1.6 million.
It also recommended $18 million be designated for land acquisitions, more than $27.7 million be set aside for a 24th elementary school and more than $48.2 million for an eighth middle school.
If the school board calls a bond election, Woods said the advisory committee will begin the process of getting the word out about the bond referendum to community and civic groups, other organizations and prospective voters. The committee is still in the planning stages of how it intends to get the word out to the public of bond needs if the school board calls an election, he said.
For more details on the 2013 bond plans, visit www.dentonisd.org/Page/47433 .
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @Britney Tabor.