By Kathi Bliss
After hearing an assessment report last month that the Lockhart Independent School District might need a bond election to build new facilities in the near future, Trustees asked for more information on the possibility on Monday evening.
During the regular business meeting of the LISD Board of Trustees, Trustee Tom Guyton brought forth an item to request an update from the Facilities Assessment Task Force, including information on the contractor, Robert Gadbois, who has been working with the committee.
The task force is comprised of dozens of members of the community, who met with Gadbois and toured LISD facilities throughout the summer. After physically reviewing the campuses and hearing information on facility requirements, the committee made tentative recommendations that many upgrades are needed, including reconstruction at the high school, possible realignment of grade levels and reorganization of facilities, and even the construction of a new elementary campus.
Gadbois was on hand Monday evening to discuss the process with the Board, some of whom were resistant to the idea that they hadn’t been more involved in the process up to this point.
“We have to go through that process outside the confines of the Board,” Gadbois explained. “Trust me… the task force challenged me on everything.”
He explained that having community members, rather than upper-level administration and board members, involved in the initial phases of the assessment assured that committee members did not have preconceived notions about what the Board or Superintendent were hoping for.
“We didn’t want it to look like I was telling the Task Force, ‘this is what we have to do,’” Superintendent Dr. Jose Parra reiterated.
Still, Guyton and other members of the Board said they would prefer to receive the same depth and breadth of information that was given to the Task Force, as well as the information given to staff at the campus level, who made the same recommendations as the Task Force.
“I feel like I’m a customer building a house, and you’re a contractor that isn’t talking to me and keeping me out of the conversation,” Trustee Juan Alvarez said. “I feel like you’re telling us ‘this is what you need,’ without letting us in on everything.”
Gadbois countered with an analogy of his own.
“I think of it as, I’m talking to the most important person in the construction of your house, and that’s your wife. And then I’m talking to your kids, and the mother-in-law that’s going to move in with you, and when we finish all that, then we’ll sit down with you with the options,” he said.
He assured the Board the process would come back before the Trustees and allow them to sift through the information well before any final decisions are made.
Guyton continued with a concern that, if the Board calls a bond election to fund school upgrades, they are removed from the conversation.
“We, as Trustees can’t talk about it at all after the election is ordered,” he said. “So we need to make sure before we get to that point that we’ve got all the information we need and are able to talk to the community about it before we call an election.”
Gadbois suggested a workshop to discuss options to be set in September, allowing his staff to move forward with preparing a facilities plan, and allowing the Trustees to receive the information they need before they have to call an election.
In a related item, the Trustees also discussed upgrades to be made to LISD facilities to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Trustees made reference to a complaint letter dated July 9, 2013, but did not disclose the contents of that letter. In general, however, it seems a complaint was made that the Lockhart High School and Lockhart Junior High School football stadiums are not compliant with ADA, a situation that will have to be remedied.
“You can be in compliance with the Act when a facility is built, but then get out of compliance as time goes by,” and the standards change, Assistant Superintendent Larry Ramirez said.
Ramirez and Parra quoted a cost between $60,000 and $100,000 to make the necessary changes to allow for handicapped seating at Lion Stadium and the junior high stadium.
“There is planning and structural engineering might have to take place, so it’s difficult,” Parra said.
Adding an additional expense to the budget for this year, Parra told the Board that he needs to add at least four more teaching positions at the elementary level, which he expects to fill on an as-needed basis.
Elementary enrollment has increased by at least 282 students this year, Parra said, and more teachers are necessary to comply with mandated student-teacher ratios.
There was some discussion about reallocating existing, unfilled positions to fill those teaching slots, but Parra and Human Resources Director Dan Vera explained that those positions are either at the secondary level, or in secretarial, and cannot be reclassified for elementary teaching positions.
The Trustees reluctantly agreed to create the positions, with the understanding that the positions will only be filled when they are needed.
The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees routinely meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Lockhart High School Conference Center. The meetings are open to the public and are webcast at www.lockhartisd.org.