Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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May 11, 2014

CISD Facilities Study Group recommends $49.6 million plan

Corsicana — After eight weeks of meeting each Thursday, the Corsicana ISD Facilities Study Committee has a recommendation: Ask the voters for a $49,673,624 bond package.

The proposal includes a new seventh and eighth-grade middle school, moving the fifth and sixth graders to Collins Middle School and turning Drane into a catch-all, or museum or something.

It would also include improvements to each of the elementary schools, the high school and Collins, primarily in the area of security, for things like secure doors and foyers.

The facilities group did address one concern expressed with the previous bond package that failed in May 2013 — this bond package does not include a new administration building or baseball complex.

A formal presentation of the plan will be presented at a school board workshop on June 2 by the committee chair people, Bryson Morrison, Jodi McSpadden and Leland Cook.

The large committee, made up of between 50 and 100 people, depending on the day, had narrowed the field down to two scenarios by this past Thursday. One scenario would build a new intermediate school for the fifth and sixth graders, and would cost a little less. However, it would still leave the seventh and eighth graders at Collins, which is nearing functional capacity, according to the bond advisors with SHW.

When it came time to vote on the two scenarios, the entire room raised their hands for the new middle school — with one exception. C.L. “Buster” Brown was the lone vote in favor of a new Intermediate School instead.

Brown argued that the district needed to consider companies like Oil City Iron Works and what a higher tax rate would do to their tax bills, not just the taxes for a homestead. However, in the end, he agreed that the bond package needed to exist.

“I’d have chosen the other one, but we need to have another school, whether it’s a middle school or an intermediate school. I think that’s very clear,” Brown said following the meeting.

Regardless of which of the two scenarios were chosen, the tax rate increase would be the same, McSpadden said.

The school district is proposing some fancy accounting to arrive at the less than $50 million goal, but basically it involves refinancing some older bonds, taking some out of fund balance, and tapping into a state program to help with energy efficient upgrades.

The actual cost of the middle school proposal is closer to $65 million, but the bond sale will be about $50 million, once they take out the “Efficient Building Program” amount of $8 million from the state, and $7 million from the fund balance. The tax rate increase would actually be closer to 14 cents per $100 in appraised value, but by refinancing the older bonds, they could cut that back to 10 cents.

Corsicana ISD has about $19 million in the fund balance. Experts advise keeping enough in savings to pay two or three months’ worth of bills. Three months’ worth for CISD would be $12 million, according to Mike Nielsen, assistant superintendent for finance for the district. However, he prefers to keep bit more in there in case the state is late sending a payment, he said.

“If we took $4 million or $7 million out, we still have three months’ worth,” Morrison said.

Tony Watson took the position of devil’s advocate at Thursday’s meeting.

He argued that the committee needed to not be so focused on a middle school solution that it blinds them to the possibility that the voters wouldn’t accept such a large package.

McSpadden nodded. “At the end of the day, we’re going to hear about the tax rate,” she said.

Watson also pointed out that the more expensive middle school would mean fewer upgrades at the other schools, like Fannin. “Why not take $9 million out of the fund balance and not take away from the other campuses?” he asked.

The middle school scenario takes into account the priorities for each campus, said Jonathan Aldis, with SHW. Moving the intermediate school to Collins gives students more opportunities in terms of more gyms, a band hall, science labs, even tennis courts, than would exist if they build an intermediate school.

“Last week, I was leaning towards scenario 2 (building the intermediate school) because it was cheaper,” McSpadden said. “But the 7/8 seems like a longer-term fix.”

She said she didn’t want to have to face the voters again in five years when the middle school was maxed out.

Jane Biltz pointed out the structural problems being experienced at Tiger Stadium and how that could impact building another middle school on the neighboring site.

“Could the land at Tiger Stadium blow this whole thing up?” Biltz said. “Everything could depend on that.”

Corsicana Superintendent Diane Frost said the district would have a geophysical study done of the site, and if there is a spring or some other soil problem, then they could move the site to the former Tiger Field site on Highway 31.

Also discussed were what to do with Drane Intermediate, and suggestions included turning it into a magnet school, a history center, or using it for programs like gifted and talented. The committee also addressed briefly the marketing strategy for the bond program if it’s put onto the November ballot. Each committee member would be part of that effort, they were told.

“It’s not over, we still need your help to sell this,” said Terry Seth, board member.

   —————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com.

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