Last November, the Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees attempted to pass one of two bond propositions that included two new elementary schools, a new agricultural science barn, and a natatorium, among other district-wide improvements.
The bond was presented to voters in two propositions — one included a natatorium ($78 million) and one did not ($65 million).
Both failed by more than 59 percent.
In an attempt to refocus their efforts, the trustees later solicited the community for reasons as to why that the proposed bonds flopped.
According to a previous Daily Light report, Lee Auvenshine, WISD Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services, briefed the trustees during a February workshop on the results of the voluntary poll.
Auvenshine stated about 1,100 community members responded to the questionnaire and 52.5 percent of those polled said they would support a bond for a new elementary school within the next year. The study also found 47 percent felt the 2017 bond failed because of a fear of a possible tax-rate increase while 16 percent thought there was a lack of trust between the community and Waxahachie ISD.
During the same February workshop, Waxahachie ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn identified the primary concern for growth within the district is at the elementary level, noting that area is also the most difficult to project from year to year.
He added the district is forecasted to grow roughly three percent over each of the next several years and could be over functional capacity at the elementary level as early as the 2021-22 school year.
Glenn then stated to the trustees that the district would “not have to levy a tax-rate increase” to pay off the $23 million bond for a new elementary school in the North Grove subdivision.
Glenn also noted that, while the district can control its tax rate, WISD does not set property valuations used for property tax purposes. Those valuations are compiled by the Ellis Appraisal District.
To combat inevitable growth, the trustees unanimously called for a $23 million bond package for one elementary school during their regular February session. If passed, North Grove Elementary will open for the 2020-21 school year.
Glenn is quick to recognize the negative connotation that a proposed bond carries as it relates to property taxes. However, he and the trustees respect the opinion of the community and hope their actions are understood to be in the best interests of the students.
“Anytime you are a steward of a tax rate and people’s children it can be controversial topics. But, you want to make sure you are cognizant of the community’s values,” Glenn stated.
He added, “[…] Whether this bond passes or fails, the tax rate will remain the same. The value has risen so significantly in Waxahachie that we were able to secure the monies to pay off the bond for the new elementary, just based on the growth that we’ve seen.”
The continued growth would “possibly allow [WISD] to pay it off quicker to continue the process of building elementary schools as needed without increasing the tax rate,” Glenn elaborated. “As industries come in, as retail comes in, as residential housing comes in, and those numbers continue to rise, it allows us to pay that off quickly and allows us to ask voters for facilities without increasing the tax rate.”
Glenn also reiterated for those who are unaware and are 65 years or older or disabled, there are options to file for the homestead exemption. Under the exemption, the those who qualify have several options to reduce or freeze property tax values.
More information on the homestead exemption can be found at comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax/exemptions/age65older-disabled-faq.php.
The district is currently a little over $400 million in debt, but Glenn assured it to be paid off in 27 years. He noted in the past four years, the district has refinanced nearly $15 million.
Glenn also added the only other alternative to raise funds for a new elementary school would be to cut portions of the facilities and operations budget, which would, in turn, eliminate staff or any potential raises.
Jenny Bridges, WISD director of communications, explained staff comprises over 80 percent of that budget.
Cutting staff is not an option, Glenn explained.
North Grove Elementary is anticipated to replicate the size of Felty Elementary at 72,000 square feet, featuring 40 classrooms, a maximum capacity of 650 students and a functional capacity of 533 students. The building is calculated to take two years to construct.
April 23 is the first day of early voting for the May 5 elections.
For more information on the voting schedule and locations, visit, http://www.co.ellis.tx.us/DocumentCenter/View/8529.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450