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Grassroots Power: Tyler ISD Bond Fails

Mrs. Fleming said the Grassroots group was disappointed they had to come out against the bond election, but they felt compelled to because of what they viewed as so many unanswered questions.

TISD Superintendent Dr. Randy Reid said the defeat was deflating, but the school district’s work will continue.

“We’ll be educating kids tomorrow, moving forward and trying to figure out what our next steps will be,” he said after hearing the final results.

School board President Ron Vickery said he was disappointed.

“It’s a very close election, less than one percentage point as it currently (stands),” he said. “We’ll continue to get back to work tomorrow in the business of the district, educating kids and taking care of the financial and educational needs of our community.”

He said the economy played a role in the failure of the bond issue and that going forward he is going to consider what can be done differently.

“Obviously the needs of the buildings continue to exist,” he said.

With the failure of the bond package, the overall tax rate is expected to drop between 5 and 7 cents for the 2012 tax bill. This will take the tax rate from $1.375 per $100 valuation to about $1.32. It would then stay relatively steady for the next three years, fluctuating about 1 cent up or down.

The average homeowner, with a homestead exemption of $15,000, could see a potential savings of $65, taking the tax bill from about $1,642 to $1,577. This is for a $134,445 home.

This assumes the district does not take on any additional debt in the coming years or that property tax values do not decline.

The failed bond proposal was the first in recent years to elicit organized opposition from the community.

The Grassroots group opposed the bond package, saying it was poorly timed, poorly planned and contained too many unanswered questions.

Tyler resident Steve Kueck, who opposed the bond because of the possible relocation of Rice, said he wishes Reid would have been able to answer questions asked of him and laid out a clear plan.

“No one with ‘Why Relocate Rice?’ is thrilled about the situation,” he said. “We just wanted answers to our questions … and you don’t give someone that kind of money if they can’t answer simple questions.”

The defeat of this bond package places on hold projects addressing the district’s long-term facilities plan. The first two phases of the plan were accomplished with the 2004 and 2008 bonds, which built and renovated 13 elementary schools and replaced a school for students with special needs.

With this bond package, the district intended to complete work at the last two elementary schools and begin work on middle schools.

Reid has said the district presented this proposal to voters this election cycle to take advantage of good bond rates and construction prices.

The district is retiring debt at such a rate that it could take on as much as $100 million of additional debt without increasing the tax rate. The bond proposal asked voters to maintain the existing tax rate.

With the failure of this bond proposal, Reid said the district will regroup and return at some point with a different plan.

He said the poor economy played a large role in the defeat of the bond package. He also said the national political scene and an apparent backlash against “the establishment” seemed to negatively affect the bond.

The largest piece of this package would have built a new middle school in southwest Tyler, something intended to alleviate overcrowding at the other campuses. Reid has said five of the six existing middle schools have at least 10 portables. Some have more than 20.

Rice and Dixie also are facing growth issues. The schools have four and 15 portables, respectively. Common areas such as cafeterias, libraries and restrooms were not built to accommodate current populations.

Reid said without these new buildings, the district will continue to address the facility needs with what they have. He said they also will analyze the election results and the concerns community members expressed to decide how to move forward.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, co-chair of the VOTE YES committee that supported the bond, said the results were disappointing, but he respects the process.

“Bond issues are important to put before the voters,” he said. “It’s ultimately up to the voters, and I respect the will of the voters. They made a decision tonight.”