Gilmer ISD proposes $36 million bond issue
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Aug 29, 2013 | 1891 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Gilmer School Board on Thursday night, Aug. 22, called a Nov. 5 bond issue election for $36.2 million in proposed facilities improvements, including a new high school.

The issue will be divided on the ballot into three separate propositions, and passage of all three would raise the school’s tax rate by 26 cents per $100 valuation, said Supt. Rick Albritton. That would make the total tax rate $1.445 per $100 valuation, which Albritton said would raise taxes on a home valued at $100,000 by $220 yearly.

The first proposition involves building a new Gilmer High School at the campus’s current site; converting the vocational school building there into a central administration building; and razing the current high school, which has been remodeled and added onto several times since its original construction in about 1950. The demolition would occur after the new school, estimated to be useful for about 70 years, is completed, and the old school’s site would be used for parking.

That proposition’s part of the total $36,210,000 bond issue proposal would cost $30,690,000, and raise the tax rate 22 cents, school officials said.

The second proposition is to add classroom space to Bruce Junior High School, and improve parking/traffic at the Elementary and Intermediate campuses. The Junior High changes would include adding a science laboratory, housing for fine arts, and removing a structure reportedly erected in the early 1960s.

Cost of that proposition would be $3,365,000, requiring a 2.5-cent hike in the tax rate, officials said.

The third proposal, which would be instituted only if it and the first proposition pass, is for a “multi-purpose facility” at the high school. GISD said it could house indoor activities, ranging from athletic, drill team and band practices to a place for the public to walk.

Its price tag is $2,155,000, which would raise the tax rate 1.5 cents, the school said.

The bond proposal was based on input from an approximately 35-member citizen committee which met at least three to four times since spring. Albritton said the process leading up to calling the election began two years ago with a study before the board appointed the committee, which he said visited all school facilities, including even the maintenance barn.

The board voted 5-0 Thursday to call the election, with Board President Jeff Rash arriving at the 16-minute meeting just before adjournment (because his horse had gotten out, Albritton said), and member Diedra Camp absent because she was on vacation.

Trustees voting to call the election were Mike Tackett, Gloria King, Todd Tefteller, Ken Southwell and Mark Skinner, and Rash said after the meeting he strongly endorsed their action.

“This was a well thought- out process” aimed at providing a “cutting-edge” school district, board VicePresident Tackett said during the meeting. School officials also said taxes for those age 65 and older are frozen unless they add value to their homes.

In addition, in a written statement given to reporters, the board said it “envisions a (high school) facility that will prepare students to be college and career ready” by having “classrooms that will provide for dual credit in the sciences, mathematics and liberal arts.

“Gilmer ISD hopes to offer career certifications to our students that will give them advantages when seeking employment and post-secondary education opportunities through updated science, technological and academic spaces,” the statement added.

After the meeting, Albritton said there are problems with roofing and the air conditioning/heating system at the “aging” current high school, and that current facilities are not approved for college-level courses.

The proposed new 122,000 square-foot school would hold 800 students starting in 2016, as the school’s enrollment for the past 20 years has never exceeded 720 and is currently about 650, he said.

During his post-meeting comments, Rash said “there’s a real incentive to do it (the proposed improvements) now with the (current) low interest rates.” He termed the situation a “pay me now or pay me later” matter.

If the school waits 20 more years to build the high school, it does not know what the interest rates will be, and the cost will probably be $50 million then, the board president said. He called construction of a new facility “inevitable at some point.”

He also said a high school has an economic impact on a community, as potential newcomers to a town look at it when planning to move somewhere.

“I hope it (the bond proposal) doesn’t raise any dissension,” Albritton told reporters, adding that he and the board believed the improvements are “a critical need.” This will be the school’s first bond issue election in about 10 years.

Also after the meeting, Rash said GISD would record a video presentation on the needs and finances, so “there’ll be no way the general public can’t be informed.” He said it would be on the Internet, and Albritton said the school would hold “town meetings.”

Rash invited groups which want someone from the school to speak on the issue to call the administration office at 903 843-2525. While the district can explain its proposal, Albritton said state law prohibits school officials from actually promoting it.

In other action at Thursday’s special meeting, the board raised lunch prices by 25 cents to $3.25 for school staff members, raised the lunch price for visitors to $4, and approved final budget amendments for the current fiscal year.

Albritton said the federal government requires the school set a certain price. He noted the new reimbursement rate from the government for lunches is $2.93.

As for the budget amendments, school Business Mgr. Beverly Grimes said they would not change the school’s bottom line, other than temporarily.

The bond issue is the second election the board has called recently. On Sept. 14, GISD voters decide whether to rearrange the way tax revenue is expended—a move school officials say would bring the district an additional $200,000 in state aid, if approved.
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