Members of the Waxahachie ISD Long Range Planning Committee focused on the district’s current and future facility needs during its meeting this week and in initial discussion, inched closer toward the possibility of recommending a new high school facility.
Formed by WISD Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn in September, the committee formed of approximately 50 community members, is tasked with helping the district develop a long-range strategy to provide a world-class public education for students in the district. The panel is charged with producing a list of recommendations to the board of trustees at its Dec. 8 meeting for possible adoption.
One of the committee’s primary objectives is to stem the tide of “affluent flight” the district is currently experiencing as a significant number of middle and upper class families are pulling their students from public schools and placing them in charter and private schools.
In the group’s first meeting, Glenn cited lack of choices for both parents and students as the main reasons for parents leaving public education.
Addressing the need to provide those choices, the second meeting focused primarily on creating magnet schools — beginning at the elementary level.
This week’s meeting honed in on facility needs. The group has four meetings remaining before finalizing any recommendations to the board, although the panel did edge closer to the option of building a new high school as its first choice for new school facilities.
As of Oct. 27, the district is already 1 percent above its projected enrollment for the 2014-15 school year. In October, WISD enrolled its 8,000th student for the current school year. Based on enrollment projections compiled by Templeton Demographics, Shackelford Elementary School will reach capacity in 2016; Finley Junior High will reach capacity in 2017 and Waxahachie High School will reach capacity in 2018.
In looking at existing facilities and future capacity projects, discussion centered on the high school, with that facility constructed in 1970.
“If you look at this like a jigsaw puzzle and dump all of the pieces on the table, normally you start with the edges and that makes it a lot easier to fill-in the inside pieces. In this case, if you start with the high school, that’s our largest facility and the one that opens the door to a lot of other uses down the line,” said Ryder Appleton, WISD director of support services.
Under that scenario, the current high school building could be used for a number of options, such as a junior high facility which would not only address the nearing capacity level at the high school, but at Finley as well.
“Starting with the biggest building first, it starts a domino effect that creates options down the line,” Appleton added.
Multiple options were discussed by the group, which was divided into four separate working groups for independent brainstorming and Q&A.
In the brainstorming portion of the discussion, it was apparent a new high school poses a lot of possibilities — especially under Dr. Glenn’s charge to the group to “think outside the box.”
For example, a new high school facility could include “a school within a school” by creating a portion of the facility to house Global High, keeping the T-STEM/Early College High School intact, yet allowing those students the opportunity to take part in extra curricular activities provided by the high school.
Discussion also centered on the career and vocational center — whether to include that program in the new facility, leave it at the current high school or, possibly work with the new Texas State Technical College campus in Red Oak and partner with other districts to create a super career and vocational technical training center for students throughout Ellis County.
One of the breakout sessions focused entirely on district finances and funding.
Currently, in order to meet state requirements for public education facilities, it costs approximately $100 million to build a new high school campus, with that figure including the purchase of land. In Texas, current regulations require that high school campuses be built on a minimum of 100 acres.
The district currently owns 125 acres of land near the Magnablend facility (former site of the Superconducting Super Collider site) deeded to the district by the federal government when the SSC project was defunded by Congress. It also owns 50 acres of land on North Highway 77 near the new Life School facility.
During Q&A, it was asked if the district had to use that land and if it didn’t, could it sell that property and use those funds to help offset the costs of purchasing land in a location more suitable for a new high school facility.
The answer was yes, the district was free to sell the land it currently owns or it may hang on to that land for future needs.
While some in the panel saw the need to hang on to the land on Highway 77 North for a possible future elementary campus, nearly all said expressed concerns about building a school campus that far out of the city limits, or, that near a major industrial complex.
Funding also initiated an animated discussion.
Currently, WISD’s tax rate is $1.4289 per $100 assessed value. According to the Ellis County Appraisal District, the average residence in WISD is $143,313 — or $127,839 in taxable value factoring in the Texas homestead exemption and the tax rate “freeze” for homeowners over 65.
The following district’s bonding ability, the following bond referendum scenarios were explained to the panel:
• Asking voters to approve an $85 million bond with an interest rate of 4.25 percent, resulting in an increase of the tax rate to $1.54 per $100 valuation, or an annual increase of $136.10 for the average household.
• Asking voters to approve a $100 million bond with an interest rate of 4.75 percent, resulting in an increase of the tax rate to $1.54 per $100 valuation, or an annual increase of $136.10 for the average household (based on the projected growth of the tax base using current trends of 3-5 percent).
• Asking voters to approve $146.75 million bond with an interest rate of 4.75 percent, resulting in an increase of the tax rate to $1.67 per $100 valuation, or an annual increase of $295.35 for the average household (again based on the projected growth of the tax base using current trends of 3-5 percent).
Other funding options were discussed, including charging out-of-district tuition for students who do not reside within the WISD boundaries. State law allows districts to charge a fee to students who transfer in from another district. Under the law, districts can charge the excess of general fund expenditures over state aide to incoming transfer students. For WISD, this amount could be as much as $4,3560 annually.
The discussion centered around Global High, which by law as a T-STEM/Early College High School, is required to have an open enrollment policy and has the largest enrollment of non-district students.
However, with prior discussions of creating magnet campuses for bi-lingual education, STEM, fine arts and an early college program at the high school level, there could be a number of students from nearby districts wanting to transfer to WISD as the district moves toward fulfilling its mission of becoming an education destination.
A poll was taken at the conclusion of the meeting with 61 percent of the panel favoring a new high school to address the district’s facility needs.
The WISD Long Range Planning Committee will hold its next meeting Nov. 6 at Finley Junior High School.
To follow the committee’s discussions, visit the LRPC website at http://www.wisd.org/default.aspx?name=DIS_LongRangePlanCommittee. Videos, PowerPoint presentations, and other information is available on this website.