Uncertainty remains: Potential GISD bond proposal stalls in committee

Gainesville Independent School District Superintendent DesMontes Stewart speaks to the GISD Facilities Steering Committee at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15. The committee was to decide among four possible bond election options, but two additional options the committee decided Wednesday to consider are outlined on the whiteboard behind him.

An additional meeting lasting roughly two hours still wasn’t enough for the majority of Gainesville Independent School District’s Facilities Steering Committee to decide on a bond proposal.

Members of the FSC have been working on a bond proposal to bring to members of the school district’s board of trustees so the school board can vote on calling a May 2020 bond election. However, the committee agreed they must have a supermajority — at least two-thirds of the vote — for the recommendation to be brought to board members. Three votes later, the FSC could not arrive at a supermajority decision.

More than 40 committee members met Wednesday, Jan. 15, inside the Gainesville ISD Administration Building, 800 S. Rusk St., and weighed in on six options, four of which were established at their previous meeting Jan. 8.

The FSC is made up of community members and district staff. The possible bond options the committee voted on are:

Option one comprises expanding Robert E. Lee Intermediate, 2100 N. Grand Ave., for $13,013,400, expanding W.E. Chalmers Elementary, 600 Radio Hill Road, for $12,781,954 and making various capital improvements throughout the district for $12,980,208, for a total of $38,775,562.

Superintendent DesMontes Stewart said the capital improvements number, which includes a new roof and HVAC for the junior high, can fluctuate depending on what the committee decides to recommend to the school board.

Option two includes all of option one plus building a new auditorium for $15,170,856, bringing the overall cost of option two to $53,946,418.

The third option is to build a new junior high school for $68,624,491 and go with the capital improvements for a total of $81,604,699.

Option four is to go with the expansions of Lee and Chalmers and construct a new junior high for an overall total of $94,419,845.

Option five, one of the new options Wednesday, included three propositions that voters would choose among: Proposition one was for option one, proposition two was for a new auditorium and proposition three was for a career and technical education building for $9.3 million.

Option six, the other new option proposed Wednesday, included a voter choice between a proposition for option one and a proposition for a new auditorium.

All costs provided are estimates and may fluctuate, officials said.

The maximum bond the district can request is $92.5 million because of the state cap on the district’s interest and sinking portion of the tax rate at 50 cents. A $92.5 million bond would increase the I&S tax rate by 42 cents.

In August 2019, members of the Gainesville ISD board of trustees approved a maintenance and operations tax rate of $1.07 and an I&S rate of 8 cents bringing the district’s total tax rate to $1.15 per $100 of property valuation.

The M&O tax rate supports day-to-day operating expenses. The I&S tax funds the district’s debt obligations.

Stewart told committee members that should the community pass a bond that exceeds $92.5 million, such as with option four, the district would have to use its fund balance to cover the rest. He said the district has about $11 million in fund balance.

Three votes were taken Wednesday evening. Options three and six were the most favorable in the first vote, gaining 12 and 8 votes, respectively. The second vote — between options three and six — yielded 22 votes for option three and 20 for option six. The last vote, which was to possibly aim for a supermajority, brought in 23 votes for option six and 19 for option three, Stewart said.

Since the committee could not arrive at a supermajority decision on an option to recommend to the school board, there might not be a May 2020 bond election, Stewart said.

The district has until Feb. 14 to determine if it will host a bond election this May.

The next step, he said, will be for him to brief board members on the topic when the board of trustees meets at 5 p.m. at the admin building Tuesday, Jan. 21.

“We may have to reconvene, then again, we may have to look to push this out,” Stewart said. “I’m going to adhere to the wishes of the committee. They wanted supermajority, that’s two-thirds vote, and that’s going to be what we stick to. So, I truly want our community to step up and tell us what they want.”

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