By LEOPOLD KNOPP
In a unanimous decision, the Lewisville ISD school board called for an election on the $737.5 million bond that has been under discussion since July. Under the plan, Hedrick Elementary will be torn down and not rebuilt.
The proposition will allow voters to vote for or against the bond, which represents funding for more than 30 projects to improve the district, be it refurbishing schools, acquiring new technology or building entirely new facilities. The projects were selected for approval out of a pool of more than 40 by the Facility Advisory Committee, a committee of 89 citizens from all walks of life across the school district. The I&S tax rate should the package be approved peaks at 44.65 cents in 2022. In a board workshop last week, district CFO Mike Ball said actually hitting that number would be a “worst-case scenario.”
The board called for an election of one $737.5 million package. In previous years, special events were in a separate item.
The FAC and the school board have been under fire since November, when it came to its decision about Hedrick, with parents passionately asking the board to reconsider and even picketing outside the school. Hedrick Elementary is known for serving a population that largely lacks transportation with a high ratio of English language learners. The school also provides several unique services, including a free breakfast every day for all students, which parents are worried will not carry over. District superintendent Kevin Rogers has said repeatedly that these services will follow Hedrick students as they are redistributed to other nearby Elementary schools.
As the crowd of Hedrick supporters began to jeer, board vice president Tracy Scott Miller repeated a previous claim that no one had called him to ask about the Hedrick issue and emphasized that he and his fellow board members would have to carry the weight of their decision.
“I think that, in this, there’s nothing we could say to make some people happy, and there maybe isn’t anything you could say to change our mind, but I know this — I’ve anguished over this for the last two weeks heavily, and I have to carry the burden of that with me tonight when I go home,” he said. “You can pepper us with questions, you can criticize us, you can attack us, you can say that we’re not responsible and not open, yet we’re the seven… that have to carry that responsibility.”
In the public comment section, several residents and parents requested the board go against the FAC and rebuild Hedrick. While the board has repeatedly praised the transparency of the FAC process, residents consistently questioned that transparency and openly threatened to not re-elect sitting board members.
Additionally, a handful of members of the FAC itself spoke up in favor of amending the committee’s own proposal to rebuild Hedrick. In its last meeting, the committee was specifically advised to not speak out against the bond package, with leaders saying that committee members made the best advocates and them turning on their own package was the worst thing that could happen to it. Each committee member had the opportunity to veto the bond package as a whole, but did not. Hedrick Elementary’s FAC representative Shannon Richardson, who was one of those who spoke, had previously said she thought committee members would have voted differently on this issue.
FAC member Emily Strittmatter noted that adding the Hedrick rebuild to the bond package would increase it by $34.2 million, just over 4 percent of the total package, and would only increase the associated tax rate by half a cent. Strittmatter also pointed to lower-priority projects the committee approved like new athletic facilities and the expansion of Career Center East as money that would be better spent on Hedrick.
“At first blush, I, too thought, ‘wonderful! We can save $30 million,’ because at some point, you have a little sticker shock at the size of the bond,” she said. “Fiscal responsibility and good stewardship of taxpayer dollars is important, but what is more important is that all students in LISD are given the chance that they need to succeed.”
Video by Ray Hernandez:
The board also officially called elections for its place 6 and 7 seats, currently occupied by Kristi Hassett and Miller, respectively. Those seats will be on the ballot alongside the bond. The election is scheduled for May 6, and the deadline to file for a place on the ballot is Feb. 17.
In other business, the board gave an update on its efforts at influencing state legislature. Member Jenny Proznik said the board would focus on efforts against the voucher system, in which taxpayer money is funneled into vouchers that parents can use to help pay private school tuition. The state legislature has already introduced 10 bills focused on vouchers, but Proznik is worried about the lack of transparency the system presents.
“Vouchers take public money and give them to private institutions with very little transparency. You can currently go on our website and see how we spend every single dollar. There would be no way for the public to know how any dollar was spent at a private institution,” she said. “Their agenda says its for school choice. I would say we have choice in schools. You have a choice to homeschool your child, you have a choice to go to a private school of your economic means and you have a choice even within LISD.”