RED OAK — The Red Oak Independent School District experienced increased early voting this year as compared to the 2006 early voting totals, with 575 votes cast through Saturday.

Early voting ended Tuesday and election day is Saturday, May 12.

“We don’t know how they are voting, but those are the votes that have been cast. Total early votes last year were 356,” Red Oak ISD School Board of Trustees president John Hawkins said. “Last year 791 votes were cast as a whole. We’d love to have more early votes this year than total votes last time. We’ve really been encouraging people to get out and vote.”

Hawkins, school board members and school officials are taking the high voter turnout as a sign that school representatives and the “Vote Yes For Our Kids” political action committee have improved in communicating information on the bond to voters.

“We know it was the right thing to do — to get the information out and let people make an informed decision,” Hawkins said. “We’re being optimistic at this point.”

Efforts to put a bond package together began during the spring semester of 2006 when the board decided to call together the Red Oak ISD Growth Management Committee. The committee met throughout the summer up until December conducting surveys, gathering research, talking with school architects and school representatives. In December, the committee proposed the $95 million bond package to the Red Oak ISD school board.

The bond will fund the purchase of land for a new high school and Shields Elementary School and the construction of a new high school and new Shields, as well as funds for maintenance improvements across the district, including remodeling the current Red Oak High School into the junior high campus and the current Red Oak Junior High into a second intermediate school.

The new Shields will accommodate up to 700 students at a cost of $15,685,063. The new Red Oak High School, at a cost of $72,582,652, will have a capacity of 2,400 students, with a core for 2,800 students. The new high school would include a ninth-grade center, fine arts center with seating for 1,200, agriculture building, competition tennis courts and baseball and softball fields, practice fields for soccer and football, a practice track and locker rooms for all sports. The CATE facility would remain at the current Red Oak High School as the district facility and Goodloe Stadium would remain the competition facility for football, soccer and track.

The package includes $6,752,000 dedicated for maintenance issues across the district. The total cost of the proposed bond is $95,019,688. A 12 percent inflation rate was factored into the total price tag.

If passed, the bond would have a negligible effect on taxes due to House Bill 1, associate superintendent of operations Russ Schupmann said at a public meeting held Thursday, Feb. 8, with the district’s maintenance and operations tax rate dropping from $1.37 per $100 of valuation to $1.04. Although the interest and sinking rate (which is directly affected by the bonds) would rise from $0.140 per $100 of valuation to $0.2565, the total school taxes for Red Oak residents would drop more than $0.20 to $1.2965 from the current $1.510 in fiscal year 2007-2008, but would rise to $1.5366 in FY 2008-2009 once the bonds were issued.

“Over a two-year period, we would go from a $1.51 to $1.54, a three-cent increase over what you’re paying now,” Schupmann said, adding that unless the Legislature dictates otherwise, “The highest our tax rate can be is $1.54.”

The impact upon the higher tax rate in two years would be an increase of $25.50 on a home valued at $100,000, or $40.50 on one valued at $150,000.

If the bond is approved by voters, the high school is slated for completion in time for the 2010-2011 school year. The new Shields Elementary would open in time for the 2008-2009 school year.

“The way we did it this time - again starting with the growth management committee - that’s just the right way to do it,” Hawkins said. “Getting community input, being open with the community about what the needs are. These are community schools and the public has every right to be part of these decisions. It’s definitely the right way to do it.”

Part of continuing community input is the formation of the Bond Oversight Committee, which will step in and oversee the funding of bond projects and will communicate the status of projects to the community.

“There’s always the concern about good fiscal management. And of course that’s a fair question. We’re all concerned that our money is spent wisely. That’s why we formed the growth management committee and the bond oversight committee,” Hawkins said, adding that the naming of Scott Niven, current superintendent of Liberty-Eylau ISD in Texarkana, serves as another layer to ensure proper fiscal management. “Our new superintendent not only has a good education background and is also a CPA. With those three layers, we can assure the community that these bonds will be spent appropriately.”

The Bond Oversight Committee includes members such as Ernie Martinek, Ken Temple, Michael Scott, Richard Lynch, Renee Chase, Johnny Pearson, Don Shields and Wedsel Groom.

Hawkins said that the passing of the bond package would allow the school district to fix overcrowding on several levels.

“With the growth that we continue to have in Red Oak — again our high school is full, the junior high and intermediate is full, Shields is full — we’re trying to play a little catch up,” Hawkins said. “The passing of this bond will give us the flexibility to address facility needs at every grade level.”

“We appreciate everyone that has worked so hard throughout this campaign - Russ Schupmann, Karen Miller, Debbie Temple — everyone throughout the district. Karen Stanfill, the head of the PAC, everyone who has been out there getting the information out - we really appreciate their efforts” Hawkins said. “We just hope that people have been presented with the information that they need and they feel comfortable supporting the proposal.”

Hawkins encouraged anyone with questions on the bond to visit any campus to pick up brochures regarding the bond or to call the Red Oak ISD administration office.

“Anyone needing information on the bond of course can call the administration office - they can direct you to someone who would love to talk to you about the proposal,” Hawkins said. “There’s information at every campus. If someone wanted to stop by at one of our campuses, they can get information there as well. If someone wants information, we will get it to them.”

Information is also available on the school Web site, www.redoakisd.org.

A bond election watch party will be held beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at Wooden Elementary. The public is welcome to attend.

Election day voting locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at Oak Leaf City Hall (precincts 137 and 138), Shields Elementary (precincts 103, 109, 137 and 138) and Red Oak Elementary (precincts 104, 105, 110, 116, 128, 139 and 140).

E-mail Mandy at mandy.bourgeois@elliscountychronicle.com.