Close to $10 million to $15 million of the $118 million expected to be brought in for a new high school through a $125 million bond referendum this May will be used for special education facilities.
With the bond election on May 9, the announcement came from Superintendent Jeremy Glenn early Wednesday morning during an 8:30 a.m. Special Education Advisory Committee meeting. For the last few months, Glenn has been visiting different entities, organizations and campuses to inform residents about the bond.
“I’m more excited about this presentation than any of the others because — who has a child in the high school right now? If you have seen those high school special education facilities, then you know what I’m talking about,” Glenn said. “They are not in good shape, and that’s probably about the nicest way I can say that. A substantial portion of the high school facility is specific to special education, or 10 percent of our student population. Their facilities are going to be state-of-the-art, and they deserve it.”
He’s not trying to sell the issue one way or another, he said, adding regardless of whether the bond passes, improvements need to be made to WISD special education facilities.
Currently WISD is in the process of adding an additional special education school bus into the district’s budget, and another behavioral unit at Northside Elementary for students. At the last WISD board meeting on April 13, trustees also approved the hiring of 11-12 special education teachers and 11 paraprofessionals, for a total investment of $1.2 million, Glenn said. Teachers have also spent a couple weeks, and will spend more weeks in the near future, visiting different campuses to see different special education classroom equipments and facility details to help gather ideas for what’s best for the new facilities.
Glenn said he hopes with the new special education facilities, the district will be able to offer more project-based learning opportunities and more educational programs similar to the district's Elevate program, a partnership with Navarro College which allows special needs students to continue education after high school and offers job opportunities.
“Are we where we need to be? I’m going to say absolutely not, we’re not where we need to be in each and every program, but we’re not standing still either,” Glenn said. “We’re trying to jump out and get everyone to know that this is an important issue and that we’re trying to make it better. I hope that you can see we’re trying to work with the advisory committee, with the parents, and that we truly want this to be a partnership.”
Glenn then went on to discuss and recap the rest of the bond referendum. The bond election was called in February after a Long Range Planning Committee of about 60 community members voted on a resolution to present to the board to address expected growth in the next 20 years. He started by asking the name of the teacher at the Wilemon campus who got angry enough at his class to pick up a student desk and throw it through a second story window.
“Mr. Hancock — I like sharing that, because that building was built in 1917, and 53 years later they were Waxahachie High School. That was in 1970,” Glenn said. “Now, by the time a new facility would be put on the ground it would be about 48 years. So, it seems like every 50 years, Waxahachie has had to answer this call of are we going to build a new high school? When you think about the Wilemon, built in 1917, it’s been a high school. It’s been a middle school. It’s been an elementary school. It’s been an alternative school and it’s been condemned, and now it’s an early college high school. I think it’s a great example of how Waxahachie’s done a good job of utilizing every building, taking care of every building, so that each generation has the opportunity to use every building.”
The plan for the Wilemon building is to turn the campus into another elementary campus to address capacity issues at Shackelford and Wedgeworth Elementary. If space allows, the campus may be a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Magnet school, according to previous Waxahachie Daily light articles and the bond information presented on the WISD website.
Global High will then move into a portion of the current WHS facility, with Waxahachie High School of Choice and Challenge Academy moving into the other portion, along with other administrative offices. The move will provide Global High “with additional space to continue its present instructional model” of project-based learning, previous articles and the WISD website stated. That renovation is expected to cost an estimated $5 million out of the $125 million bond referendum.
Glenn then asked the committee the name of Richards Park before it was named Richards Park. The answer is Jungle Park, and Glenn said to understand the importance of why the district has no intention to move or get rid of the park in anyway, it’s important to understand its history.
The Detroit Tigers actually built it for a minor league baseball facility, Glenn said. And when a traveling zoo was here, because it was one of the few large, fenced in areas, they would put zoo animals out on it, he said. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, they would play ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ before the baseball team ran out on the field.
“So, I tell you that because there’s a lot of rumors that have turned up with this bond, and one of them was that we are going to sell Richards Park to the city and tear it down and build a new park,” Glenn said. “Richards Park is a historical field and that was never, ever, ever discussed, but you’ve got people who believe that. And the reason I’m here before you today is so that you have factual information. We are not selling Richards Park. That is fact. My certification is based on that and I'm not going to jeopardize my livelihood and my family’s livelihood to tell you, ‘Hey, we’re not getting rid of Richards Park,’ and then come back in a year and bulldoze the baseball field. I’m not going to tell you we’re going to build a $118 million high school and then build a new central office right here. We’re not going to do those things. The State of Texas would have a significant problem with us if we did.”
The new high school will provide capacity at all grade levels through the re-purposing of several campuses, and contain classroom space for 2,500 students grades ninth through 12th, according to the WISD website and previous articles. It will also have a core capacity of 3,000 students if needed, and house a new Career and Technical Education facilities and new Fine Arts Center. The new high school is expected to be located on 310 acres of land near the intersection of U.S. Highway 287 and U.S. Highway 287 Bypass, two miles west of I-35E for the future home of Waxahachie High School. The land was bought for $9 million out of WISD’s general fund balance.
Since 2005, WISD has grown by 32.5 percent or 1,968 students, according to the WISD website. In the last five years alone, WISD’s enrollment has grown by 7.8 percent or 573 students, which is enough to fill an average-sized elementary school, the website stated. Current projections by Templeton Demographics, the company hired by WISD to study demographic trends in the area in 2014, estimate a growth of 883 students in the next five years. Glenn also said, after working close with city officials, it’s estimated for every 1,000 homes that come to Waxahachie, and additional 400 students might also join the city, whether they attend WISD or some other educational entity.
The bond will also include renovations to the façade and track and field of Finley Junior High, estimated out of the bond referendum at $800,000, and renovations to the Turner campus. Those renovations are estimated at $1 million to make the campus an additional elementary, addressing student enrollment growth and possibly housing a pre-k program if space is not available on individual elementary campuses, the WISD website stated.
With all that in mind, that would mean taxes would go up slightly for residents. The average home in WISD, valued at $142,313 with a taxable value of $127,839, would see an estimated tax increase of $13.42 per a month or $161 a year, according to the WISD website and previous articles. However, senior citizens whose property taxes are frozen would not be affected, with the caveat that if a senior moves into a more expensive home, their taxes might increase naturally, Glenn said.
“In the last bond election, 2,000 people voted for the (Lumpkins) stadium. We really want a larger voter turn out,” Glenn said. “We want to see a lot of people come out and vote in this election. So, how do we do that? We want to give more convenient ways for parents and community members to vote.”
Early voting for the bond starts at 8 a.m. on Monday and runs through May 5. The district has put mobile polling locations at every campus and the Ellis County Elections Office to make it easier for potential voters to cast their ballots, Glenn said. To see a full list of polling locations, visit www.wisd.org or check out Sunday’s print or online edition of the Daily Light. For more articles on the bond, visit www.waxahachietx.com or check out our special premium edition expected to be published May 1.
“This is the largest bond election in the history of Ellis County,” Glenn said. “It deserves to have a huge voter turnout. It’s going to change the direction of our schools for years, and years and years to come. So, more than anything we want people to come out and vote. If I could get one thing across, it’s if you are passionately against this, go out and tell your family and your friends. Go out and tell everybody, ‘Let’s stop this, this is not good for our schools.’ If you are for it, go out and do the same thing, and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out and support this.’ Don’t sit there and say I’m kind of for it or I’m kind of against it and not go vote. We really, really want people to go out and vote in this election. If I can stress one thing in this entire presentation, its to go out and vote and encourage your family and friends to go out and vote. Know the facts and base your decision on the facts. If you’re adamantly against it, then I’m very much ok with that. We’ll find a new direction and we will go the direction the community wants. But, what we don’t want is a small group of 800 people saying this is what’s best for Waxahachie.”