By Kathi Bliss
The end of the road is the beginning of the journey.
A path littered with confusion, speed bumps and potholes led to a unanimous decision on Monday evening to let the community decide what’s best for its children.
After months of discussion and planning, the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously to call a bond election in May, allowing the voters to decide whether or not to give the District permission to ask for more than $63 million to make sweeping improvements to Lockhart High School, potentially build a new elementary school, and make several expensive improvements to other campuses throughout the District.
Working off an earlier request from the trustees, LISD Administrators came forward with two options for the bond election, one asking for only $59.8 million to make the improvements to the campus buildings, and a second, giving the voters two propositions to vote on – the $59.8 million and an additional $4.1 million for renovations to Lion Stadium, the bleachers and press boxes, concession stands and restrooms.
Assistant Superintendent Larry Ramirez noted several of the projects included in the stadium upgrade would be required to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but said the total of the ADA projects would cost less than $1 million of the total $4.1 million price tag.
Interim Superintendent Janie Wright and Chief Financial Officer Tina Knudsen recommended the Board embrace the first option, borrowing only $59.8 million under the bond initiative and finding another way to fund the stadium upgrades.
The trustees, however, seemed to have other ideas.
“I’m inclined to go ahead and do it all at once,” said Trustee Jessica Neyman. “So… talk me out of that. Remind me the rationale as to why that $4 million is causing the heartburn.”
Knudsen, who has for years led the District in very conservative stewardship of taxpayer funds, said her concern was bringing the District so close to “maxing out the credit cards,” and reaching the maximum debt capacity of $71.65 million.
“We have to keep that on the forefront while we’re making decisions,” she said. “We tried to focus on what we need instructionally at these campuses.”
Board Vice President Brenda Spillmann chimed in with questions as to whether borrowing the additional $4 million would allow the District to build another school, if the need arose in the future.
“Can we do that, with the $11 million?” she asked. Knudsen said it was unlikely.
“If we’re going to do 90 percent, why not do the whole campus,” Spillmann asked. “We’ve been so frugal for so long, but I think the time has come and this is a good investment. It’s not just about football, it’s the whole package and we need to do it right, because this investment is going to come back to us tenfold.”
Knudsen pointed out that several items were not included in the bond package, including furniture, fixtures and equipment for either the high school or the proposed new elementary campus, and that the District will have to find the money for those items through either a maintenance tax note, or out of fund balance.
After circling the wagons for nearly an hour on the discussion, the Trustees voted unanimously to call a bond election in May, asking for $63.915 million.
The Proposition includes: additions and renovations to Lockhart High School totaling $42.6 million. This project includes demolition of older classroom wings and replacement with single and two-story classroom wings that will increase the campus capacity to almost 2,200 students. This will allow for the ninth grade campus to merge with the Lockhart High School. The project also includes a new Career and Technology Education wing and a new Performing Arts Center (PAC), which includes a band hall. Technology upgrades and comprehensive renovation of remaining spaces are also proposed. In addition, the proposition includes a new $13 million elementary campus.
Finally, approximately $4.2 million has been included for capital improvements to all remaining district campuses. Renovations are also included in the proposition for Lion stadium totaling $4.1 million, which includes replacing stadium seating while changing home and visitor’s sides. A new press box, including an elevator for handicap access, new restrooms and concessions are also proposed for both home and visiting teams.
Although the stadium upgrades do not include installing turf on the stadium field, the trustees discussed, and reached a consensus, that the $900,000 required to make that upgrade would be found elsewhere within the budget. The total upgrades to the stadium will not only bring Lion Stadium closer in line with other stadiums in Lockhart’s UIL District, but will also allow for the possibility of hosting band contests, playoff games and other sporting events, which could generate revenue throughout the year.
The election, which is slated for May 10, 2014, will ask voters to approve permission for the borrowing. However, the trustees have agreed that they will not borrow the entire amount immediately, instead weighing the needs of the District, particularly in relation to the construction of the new elementary school, and only borrow that money when and if it is necessary.
The full impact of the bond package, if approved by the voters in May, will be an increase of 32.15 cents to the current tax rate. An estimate provided by Lockhart ISD suggests the financial impact will be around $290 per year for the average homeowner with an assessed value of $104,793 less a $15,000 homestead exemption..
Because the election has officially been called, the Trustees can no longer legally discuss the initiative or express public support or opposition to the project.
Early voting for the May 10, 2014 bond election will be held April 28 – May 6. Follow future editions of the Post-Register for developing information on the LISD bond project.