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Early voting for Sharyland HS starts Monday

SISD_newhs2MISSION — On Monday, voters here can begin deciding whether to allow the Sharyland Independent School District to sell $55 million in bonds to build a second high school in the district’s north side to address overcrowding that has doubled in the last 10 years.

If approved, the bond could increase tax rates next year for the district by $0.097, making the total tax rate for the district $1.297.

The school district currently has one of the lowest tax rates in the Rio Grande Valley at $1.20 per $100 valuation. There will be at least 10 districts in the Valley with a higher tax rate than SISD if district voters approve the bond.

Over the past few weeks, SISD administrators have met with teachers, parent associations and local organizations to answer questions about the bond issuance. Superintendent Scott Owings has conducted the presentations to inform the public about the election and explain how the money would be used.

“I’ve had a few clarifying questions, but it seems real positive,” said Owings.

There are people that don’t want to raise taxes for any reason, he said. But when they see the presentation, the numbers, the size of the school, he explained, they can see there is a need.

“It is the best thing for the community,” Owings said. “It’s because we have so many students. We’ve known for years we needed to do this at some time. It’s just at that breaking point that we need to do it.”

Over the last 10 years, officials say enrollment at the high school has doubled at Sharyland High School (SHS). By the end of this school year, enrollment numbers could exceed over 3,000 students. The district could see high school enrollment over 3,500 before the new high school is built.

Overall, SISD has seen an increase in enrollment in the entire district. In 2001-2002, the district had 5,273 students enrolled. Last year, the district had 9,655 students enrolled.

In late August, Owings said the district had waited as long as it could to build a new high school. In fact, the district has been looking to accommodate the student growth for the past three years.

“High school enrollments across the state, and here in the Rio Grande Valley, in comparison to that of Sharyland, show that the time to build is now,” said Eddie Montalvo, chairperson for a community advisory committee, in August when he presented the committee’s recommendation to the school board.

This week, Montalvo quoted a resident he spoke with about the bond saying, “It’s a no brainer.” Growth is happening here and people are moving to our school district, he added.

“We can’t fail them,” he said of Sharyland students.

The committee’s research included looking at growth trends in the state, the Valley and in Sharyland. Sharyland is in the top five percent in enrollment growth in the state, said Montalvo.

His main concern as a committee member was assuring people that the bond was a good thing and educating people about the enrollment numbers and other research the committee did.

“I’m open to talk to anybody,” he said, adding that he discusses how the tax rate would change. “It’s a small percentage to pay.”

The need for another high school is obvious for a number of voters including the parents that see it first hand when they drop off their children in the morning.

“You see the growth,” said Montalvo. “Something’s going to give.”

He said one concern of citizens has been the strength of the football team. Montalvo said even though one school will be 3A and the other will be 4A at the beginning, both will become 4A and possibly 5A as growth continues.

“The athletic side will fall into place,” he said.

SHS is packed even though the district has made several construction updates and other changes to alleviate crowding in areas such as the cafeteria, said Owings. The hallways are still cramped, he said in late August, and he didn’t see the high school getting rid of the portables anytime soon.

In the Valley, there were only two other schools with over 3,000 students. Both of those districts have, or are in the process of, building a new high school. Brownsville school district opened a new high school this year and Edinburg will be opening a fourth high school soon.

Owings and Montalvo said there are huge positives in opening another high school for the district. Having a second high school would give students more opportunities to participate in school activities and groups. Some groups, especially sports, can only take so many participants. With two high schools, twice the amount of students will be able to participate.

Approximately 70 percent of the students at SHS participate in a sport, program or other activity at the school. The Future Farmers of America group at SHS is the largest in the state.

Another benefit is teachers and administrators will be able to know their students. With too many students at one campus, some of those personal connections have been lost between students and their teachers and administrators.

“You get to a point where you just don’t know all the kids anymore,” Owings said in an interview in August. “That’s where you begin to have more dropouts.”

During an interview this week, Montalvo said with the two schools, more students would be able to get scholarships, as well. With students at two campuses, there will be two groups making the Top 10, he said.

The new high school, which would be built at 6 ½ Mile Line and Shary roads, construction plans are for 1,700 students with core areas for up to 2,500 students. As the district grows, more classrooms can be added to the proposed high school.

The district also plans to house only freshmen, sophomores and juniors the first year (2014) and include seniors the following year. Sharyland North Junior High School students would feed into the new campus while B.L. Gray students would feed into SHS.

The new high school won’t have its own football stadium, but would have all the necessary practice fields and would share the football field at the current high school campus. The new high school would also have all of the same programs and facilities as at the current high school.

Election Day voting will be held 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with Precincts 38, 63, 83 and 84 voting at Sharyland Fire Substation; Precinct 47 at Lincoln Middle School; Precinct 48 and 95 at Palmview Community Center; Precinct 74 at Lark Community Center; Precincts 88, 101 and 125 at Faith Baptist Church, and Precinct 105 at Edinburg Fireman’s Training Room.

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