Residents discuss VISD bond concerns (w/video)

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Aug. 13, 2017 at 9:57 p.m.
Updated Aug. 14, 2017 at 6 a.m.

About 40 people came to discuss concerns about the proposed Victoria Independent School District $141.2 bond proposal Sunday afternoon.

About 40 people came to discuss concerns about the proposed Victoria Independent School District $141.2 bond proposal Sunday afternoon.   Kathryn Cargo/ for The Victoria Advocate

About 40 people gathered to discuss concerns about the proposed Victoria Independent School District $141.2 million bond proposal in a forum Sunday afternoon.

The 30-year, $141.2 million bond would renovate 17 schools, replace four others and establish a multi-activity complex.

The next step for residents is to show up at the school board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the school administration building board room, 102 Profit Drive, said Emett Alvarez, former City Council member and co-owner of Revista de Victoria. The school board will consider and vote whether to put the bond proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"Show up on Thursday night," Alvarez said Sunday. "The concrete has been poured. The matter is Thursday to take a vote."

Alvarez opened the Sunday meeting at the Boys & Girls Club by questioning why school board members did not take public comment during the two years they did the comprehensive studies for the bond. He also wanted to know what the rest of the $95 million future needs are that are mentioned in a bond Power Point presentation.

The proposal was a long-range planning process, and the bond idea was not the school board's starting point, board member Tami Keeling said after the meeting. She didn't attend the Sunday meeting, but she addressed concerns raised and welcomed the public to come to the school board meeting and attend the various community presentations planned by bond supporters.

Before the school board started meeting two years ago to see what the needs of the district were, officials did not have a plan for the depreciation of the district's facilities, she said. The board naturally turned to a bond project to counter the aging facilities issue.

"In a proactive fashion, this board-driven process is a systemic way to care for the $400 million community asset that is VISD," she said.

Alvarez also wanted to know more about the possible partnerships with the University of Houston-Victoria and with the Victoria Family YMCA. The district could partner with the university to update the district event's center for a possible university basketball team.

The district has discussed with UHV officials renovating the old Memorial High School gym to standards acceptable by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. No deal has been worked out, but if that were to happen, UHV might contribute to the cost of the renovations, district officials said.

Cody Shugart, car salesman, said the majority of people in the room were there because of the proposed increase in taxes. The bond would increase the school's property tax by 7.4 cents per $100 home valuation. He said with the last bond being only 10 years ago, the district and its taxpayers will take on a heavy debt.

"By the time you sit down and add it all up, we're a half a million in debt," he said. "Now we're on a pace (where we're) going to do it every 10 years."

The district has lowered the tax rate 5.6 cents during the past five years by refinancing the previous bond. That means this proposal would increase the tax rate only 1.8 cents over 2012 levels, district officials said in proposing the bond issue.

A week ago, when a group of concerned residents first met, they wanted to negotiate the bond because everyone agrees new infrastructure is needed, Shugart said.

"No one wants to entertain that idea," he said. "It seems to be an all-or-none deal."

Alvarez said the district was not being strategic when planning to construct a new building for Stroman Middle School. He said that school might be better placed in north Victoria, where the town is expanding. He also questioned building three new elementary schools instead of just one or two.

"They could re-draw the line," he said.

Alvarez said he also was concerned about the cost of a $3 million press box for the proposed new football stadium.

"It just seems a little unreasonable," he said.

District officials have said renovating the 50-year-old stadium would cost almost as much as replacing it with a new one.

Some residents at the meeting said they wanted the money spent on teachers instead of buildings.

"How do children learn from a building? They don't. According to our own school board member, they get better-paying jobs," resident Carla Ramos said.

Keeling said the bond issue would lower the district's preventative maintenance costs. That, in turn, could free up money to raise teachers' salaries. It's not an either-or situation, she said.

"It's not that if we do this, we can't do that, but rather if we do this, we can do that better," she said after the meeting Sunday.

Rick Streeter, a VISD coach and teacher, attended Sunday's meeting to show support for the bond. He encouraged people to attend the district's presentations to get their questions answered.

Streeter said he supports the VISD bond proposal but has his own questions. He said people need to educate themselves about the facts if they are going to bring up concerns regarding the bond.

Stroman Middle School needs to be rebuilt, Streeter said, because the school is dangerous.

"Do you remember class change, going up and down those stairwells?" he said. "Those stairwells stay the same thing all the way up. It was a cattle call. You were shoulder to shoulder. If someone tripped, it was a disaster. It is a dangerous building. It should not even be occupied."

Streeter said the district's plan for a track would make district meets possible. The new football stadium would attract playoff games. All of this would attract many more fans to Victoria, he said.

Streeter said the bond proposal was brought before the districts' coaches last year and has since been cut down to $141.2 million.

"I think the district has been a lot more transparent" than its critics are giving it credit for, he said.

Streeter said the bond proposal would economically impact Victoria positively and help bring in more businesses.

"We almost lost Caterpillar because of the school district," he said. "We need to make sure that Victoria is up to par with at least the rest of the state. In some cases we're not."

School board president Lou Svetlik said after the meeting that he appreciates residents' concerns, and he said many of their questions would be answered at the school board meeting Thursday.

"VISD is committed to the openness and honesty of this process as it is the foundation of gaining the community support for passage of the bond," he said. "These are questions that deserve quality responses."



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