Running a successful school these days is a tough job, which has been made more difficult due to budget cuts, lack of parental support at home, discipline problems, state mandated assessment tests with ridiculous ratings systems that do not promote learning, personnel issues, etc. The most important job of the Board of Trustees is to be a good steward of our community’s financial resources. We pray at the beginning of each meeting and ask for God’s blessing and guidance for each decision we make. We take our job very seriously. One such financial responsibility is to maintain and/or build new facilities when necessary. We carefully analyze the facts, consult with experts, form community committees, and consider all the possible options. Then, after months of consideration and debate, decide whether to bring it to our community for a vote. It’s been a fascinating process for me, personally. We have poured over mountains of information and done enough math to make even Mrs. Murphy proud before coming to this conclusion. I’m a conservative’s conservative. I don’t like big government, and I don’t like taxes, so you can imagine how hard it was to suggest this as the best option. It would have been much more comfortable to continue with business as usual and not stir up controversy. Let some other Board worry about the problem years from now when I’m finished serving. The problem with that is that is not what the seven of us took an oath to do. We raised our hand and promised to do only those things that are in the district’s best interest. We gave our word, and sometimes, keeping your word can be uncomfortable. Dr. King once said, “The true measure of a person is not where they stand in times of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of trial and controversy.” I’ve always admired those words.
When it comes to a bond election, our job as a Board, is to present the facts, then get out of the way and let the voters consider the facts and decide what they want. The most frustrating part of that process is that while we are held under extremely high scrutiny to present the facts, some of those who oppose the plan continually distort the truth in order to frighten or exasperate voters into a panic vote with little information. Some of this is done maliciously while other times it is simply a case of being misinformed. It’s been hard not to get involved with some the Facebook discussions I’ve heard about when inaccurate information is being presented. For example, someone has put out some misleading numbers about the square foot cost we have proposed and painted a picture of us building the “Taj Mahal”. I believe they arrived at this number by dividing the proposed amount of proposition 1 by the proposed square footage of the new high school and called that “building costs.” The problem with that is the proposed amount covers much more than just building costs. It covers furniture for the building, technology, site prep, engineering, architectural and other related fees, demolition of the old high school, a parking lot where the old school stood and a million dollar renovation of the vocational building for administration offices. The estimate we received was based off of averages it took to build other schools in our area, and it is very competitive. The board would never suggest such a ridiculous number for building costs only. This led to questioning why we selected our architect of choice. Our architect was raised in Upshur County; he is very experienced; he is local to the area; he likes to use local contractors when possible; and he is very practical and did a fantastic job on our elementary school and stadium renovation. He was an obvious choice for the board. Stadium renovation is another hot button. Some would have you believe that instead of buying books we built a new stadium. The stadium renovation was built with tax maintenance bonds; payments will be supplemented with ticket sales and game revenues from the thousands of people who attend games there as well as stadium rental fees, etc. Buckeye stadium is the most popular gathering place in the entire county, and it was literally deteriorating and becoming unsafe for the number of people attending. Pine Tree spent almost 16 million dollars building a new stadium, and we renovated ours for just over 2 million with minimal cost coming out of our M&O budget.
I don’t begrudge anyone who informs themselves and decides to vote differently than I do. I also understand that many of the strongest and most vocal opponents to the bond currently home school their children, and therefore, don’t receive services from the district. Because they don’t have a direct, vested interest, I can appreciate and respect their opposition. My desire is that everyone makes an informed decision without being manipulated by a few passionate (and I’m sure well-meaning) individuals that have not carefully studied the facts, have not attended a board meeting, nor have a vested interest in our schools.
So, as a citizen, not a board member, I ask you to consider voting for Propositions 1, 2 & 3 for the following reasons: We need a new high school. The oldest part of the current one is over 60 years old and is going to need millions in repair soon (roof, HVAC, electrical, etc). That is an unavoidable fact. The bathroom facilities are inadequate, the science labs are inadequate, security is inadequate and space is inadequate (see the video at bond.gilmerisd.org). Our kids are outperforming other schools in East Texas academically and dominating them in extracurricular activities that build real life skills. Let’s give them the facility they deserve and one they can be proud of. Let’s stop wasting millions, as we have in the past, and build a facility that our entire community can be proud of for the next 70 years. Let’s build a school that will attract good families and taxpayers. Let’s build a school that will encourage graduates to stay in Gilmer, raise their families here, and contribute to our economy. Let’s build a school that will help attract new businesses because we have good schools for their employees. If we wait for politics and our economy to be perfect, there will never be a right time. Elliot Dean made a good point in a recent article when he said “someone in the 50’s and 60’s made the decision to provide him with a safe comfortable place to receive an education” now it’s our turn to do the same. I don’t want to put a band-aid on the problem and pass it along for my kids to deal with. Interest rates are at an all-time low, and we’ve been able to refinance our elementary bond notes as low as 1.9%! That’s almost unbelievable, and we have Rick Albritton to thank for it. Thanks to his leadership, we have received the state’s top financial ratings for 13 years in a row. We are financially one of the strongest districts around. My fear is that if we don’t act now, the cost to build this school in the future will be over 50 million dollars and who knows at what interest rate. If that happens, this community won’t be able to afford it, and we’re going to find ourselves in a real bind. Remember, had we built this school in the 80’s, it would have cost around 4 million and would be paid for right now with another 40 years of life. It’s a matter of pay me now or pay me later and much like the national debt, I feel we are passing to our kids in this country, it is wrong not to accept the challenge while we can. If proposition 1 alone passes, your taxes will go up 21 cents, and it will cost the average taxpayer that owns a home valued at 100k about $15 a month.
We also need the improvements at the Jr. High, and parking and traffic congestion relief at the Elementary would be great. I respectfully disagree that “painting stripes on the grass for parking” is the answer. If this proposition alone passes, your taxes will go up 2.36 cents, and it will cost the average taxpayer that owns a home valued at 100k about $1.67 a month.
As far as the multipurpose facility, or indoor practice field if you prefer, that is a matter of personal conviction. Some people like extracurricular activities and believe they build character and teamwork, develop a strong work ethic, provide an incentive for at risk kids to come to school, and help to control discipline problems. Other people don’t believe that and feel every minute should be spent in the classroom. This facility will provide a safer environment for kids participating in sports and will allow scheduled practices to be conducted in bad weather (ie. rain, lightening, cold, heat, etc.). It will also provide a place for the band, ROTC, drill team, cheerleaders, etc., to practice. Many community events can be held there as well. If you’re strictly a “wants and needs” person this is not a necessity – the high school and Jr. High are. If the high school proposition fails (prop 1) then this facility will NOT BE BUILT no matter what the vote. Again, we will not build this facility unless the voters approve the high school (prop 1) and this facility (prop 3). If the high school passes and prop 3 fails I can guarantee I will never vote to build this facility with tax payer dollars. However, if this proposition passes (along with prop 1) your taxes will go up 1.5 cents, and it will cost the average taxpayer that owns a home valued at 100k about $1.07 a month.
If all three propositions pass your taxes will go up 25.35 cents, and it will cost the average taxpayer that owns a home valued at 100k about $17.95 a month. I realize for some, like me, that number will be a little higher, and for some it will be lower. 10 years ago our taxes were $1.46, and now they are $1.185. Currently, GISD taxes are lower than many other schools in East Texas (consider Spring Hill at $1.67). How many districts get to brag about reducing tax rates after building a new elementary school that holds 1100 students? If all three proposals pass, our tax rate will still be lower than it was a decade ago, and our kids will have great new facilities that will last for decades to come.
Considering that an education is the most important gift you can provide a person and the best way to improve your local economy, poverty rate, and the related crime rate, I personally feel like it’s one of the best investments I can make. I hope you do, too. Whatever the outcome, I appreciate the opportunity to serve this community, and I encourage everyone to get behind our students and teachers and motivate them to keep striving for excellence!