WISD moves past bond rejection

Trustees discuss ways to achieve better communication with community

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Waxahachie Independent School District Administration Building at 411 North Gibson Street.

The failure of the Waxahachie Independent School District bond election at the polls on May 1 leaves the WISD board of trustees facing what to do next.

The proposed $127 million bond referendum was soundly rejected, with 3,861 votes against to 2,897 votes for. Monday night was the first regular monthly meeting since the balloting, and board members agreed that the district needs better communication with the community.

Newly-installed WISD board secretary Melissa Starnater said the district needs to survey the community and seek out best practices from other parts of the state in order to make the next bond issue work. One suggestion she made was to break future bond votes down into propositions, which she said seemed to fare better in other school districts.

“We have much trust to gain, and I know we can do it if we take the time to put the right processes in place,” Starnater told the board. “I’ve been calling other districts who’ve actually passed their bonds last weekend, and we can surely implement some of these ideas. I think we need to be ready to truly listen to our teachers, staff, parents and community as we work on our next plan for our kids.”

Board vice president Clay Schoolfield said he was disappointed in the turnout at community input meetings leading up to the bond vote and that the district needed to do a better job of getting the word out.

“We do need that input,” Schoolfield said. “We want that input. Also, I see a lot of comments from other people about the last bond … referring to the new high school. This board had nothing to do with it. The bottom line is we can only deal with facilities we have now and the money we have now.”

Board president Dusty Autrey challenged each board member, including himself, to get involved and rectify the problem.

“It starts right here,” Autrey said. “It starts with the seven of us right around this table. We’re the ones that have to be out front of this. I don’t disagree that we have to get the community involvement, but the seven of us plus our superintendent set the tone from the very beginning all the way to the end.

“I’ll take the blame for this one … but the seven of us have to own it,” Autrey continued. “We have to admit that we didn’t get it right. We’ve got to figure out what it’s going to take to get it right. The kids are still coming and there’s no stopping them. The need’s going to be there and it’s going to get bigger every day.”

With the bond referendum failing, the district will use its fund balance to finance four expenditures that were made before the bond vote, including more than $1.1 million for repairs at Coleman Junior High, Clift Elementary, Global High School and Wedgeworth Elementary.

A combined $1.4 million in design fees for two new elementary schools and a $225,000 expenditure for purchase of land for expanding the transportation facility were also included, resulting in expenses of more than $2.8 million.

WISD chief finance officer Ryan Kahlden said the expenditures will put the district close to the 90-day fund balance reserve threshold mandated by the state, but that it should not be a problem to replenish funds in the short term as long as a plan is in place.

All seven board members were present.

Other items

• Members of the Waxahachie High School state cheerleading team were recognized for finishing 11th at state. Also recognized were the WHS Cherokee Charmers and junior varsity Maidens for their award-winning season. Charmers captain Ellinor Bearden was also recognized.

• The WHS and Finley Junior High concert choirs and the WHS, Coleman, Finley and Howard Junior High concert bands were all recognized for their achievements as well.

• State award winners from the WISD arts program were recognized; and WHS and Global High School students were recognized for their achievements in University Interscholastic League academic competition.

• Northside Elementary teacher Alisha Matthews, Global High teacher Steve Martell and WHS athletic secretary Cathie Robertson were recognized with awards for their contributions.

• The Heart of a Warrior Award was presented by superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain to custodial supervisor Ruthie Valles for helping WISD not miss one day of class because of COVID-19.

• The board canvassed the results of the May 1 election and certified the results of both the bond election and the three board of trustee races. Board members Kim Kriegel, John Rodgers and Starnater were sworn in to new 3-year terms. Autrey remains as board president and Schoolfield as vice president as a result of reorganization, with Starnater replacing Judd McCutcheon as secretary.

• The board approved a change to the stipend schedule for the 2021-2022 school year as well as the monthly personnel report, professional contracts and additional positions.

• Two principal residents for the 2021-2022 school year were chosen from 13 applicants: Christie Wittenburg, a Northside Elementary teacher who will be assigned to Wedgeworth Elementary; and Christopher Thompson, currently a WHS teacher who will be assigned to Finley Junior High. Both residents will begin graduate schoolwork with the University of Texas-Tyler this summer. WISD was awarded a principal residency grant from the Texas Education Association this spring.

• Cain presented a report on budget constraints and priorities within the district. Cain said the district expects 600 additional students in the next school year, which would give the district $3.9 million in added funding, half of which would be used to hire new staff. Salary increases, high school average core class sizes and their effects on the budget were studied. Rebuilding the fund balance and additional salary increases for auxiliary employees were identified as priorities.

• Trustees received a report on damage from last Monday’s tornadic storm that caused significant damage to rural areas south of Waxahachie. Dunaway Elementary received some flooding and Turner Elementary was worse, but both campuses were able to open the very next morning. WISD support services director Raul Gomez recognized supervisors Stephen Mott and Andy Reeves for their efforts in cleaning up both campuses.

• Consent agenda items included approval of previous minutes, approval of monthly financial reports, and approval of the 2021-2022 allotment and the TEKS certification form.

• The board agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the Ellis County Juvenile Board for the creation of the Ellis County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program. Deputy superintendent Lee Auvenshine said the program’s creation has been in the works for the last two years and will be funded by the county.