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MISSION — Sharyland could soon be the largest high school in the Rio Grande Valley and one of the largest in the state, in terms of student enrollment.
“That is not a goal we want to obtain,” said Sharyland Independent School District Superintendent Scott Owings.
Sharyland has built a reputation as being one of the best, if not the best, school districts in the Valley. This district does not want to lose that level of excellence we have established in the past, said Owings. All studies show that when schools get too large, education quality goes down.
With this in mind, SISD trustees voted this week to move forward with plans to build a second high school and called for a $55 million bond election to fund the project. The bond election will be held Nov. 8.
“We’ve held off as long as we could,” said Owings. The school district had been looking at building a second high school to accommodate student growth for the past three years.
The district’s enrollment numbers have grown from 5,273 students in 2001-2002 school year to 9,655 students last year. Enrollment numbers at the Sharyland High School (SHS) have nearly doubled in the last 10 years with 1,503 students in October 2001 to 2,995 students last October.
Owings predicts SHS will reach 3,100 students before the end of the year. SHS currently has 3,011 students registered. At this time last year, there were 2,940 students enrolled.
Considering the current growth records, during the time it will take to have the bond proposition, develop plans and construct the second high school, the current high school campus could have an enrollment of 3,400 to 3,600 students. Owings said he doesn’t want SHS to be known as the largest high school in the Rio Grande Valley.
The school is packed now even though the district has made construction updates and other minor changes to alleviate crowding in the cafeteria, but hallways are still cramped when in use, Owings said. He doesn’t see the high school getting rid of the portables anytime soon as he had hoped after the 400 Building was complete.
Only two other high schools in the Valley had over 3,000 students – Brownsville’s Hanna High School and Edinburg High School. Edinburg will be opening a fourth high school soon and the Brownsville school district opened another high school this year with ninth- and 10th-graders attending.
Locally, the only other district close to a 3,000-student campus is La Joya with La Joya High School educating 2,480 students.
If SISD does not build another high school soon, it could be one of the top two percent of high schools in the state to have over 3,100 students enrolled, officials siad.
Owings said by having two high schools, it gives more students a chance to participate in sports, UIL activities and other groups at the campus. Some sports have had to cut or turn students away because they have reached the maximum amount of students that can participate.
Approximately 70 percent of the students at SHS participate in a sport, program or other activity offered at the school. The district also has the largest Future Farmers of America group in the state.
“We can only handle so many kids,” Owings said.
Owings wants Sharyland to retain the small-town feel. When a school becomes too large, or has too many students, teachers and administrators lose that personal connection with their students, he explained.
“You get to a point where you just don’t know all the kids anymore,” said Owings. “That’s where you begin to have more dropouts and things.”
District officials tout that their dropout rate is low because of the participation by students in school activities. Owings said student participation cannot be done when so many students are on one campus.
New High School Specifications
Owings said, the new high school, which will be built at 6 ½ Mile Line and Shary roads, would possibly increase growth in that area, further increasing numbers at the high school and in the district.
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.
With this bond election, the tax rate could increase next year by as much as $0.0970 for the interest and seeking fund, making the total tax rate $1.297 if the tax rate were to be increased next year. In comparison to other Valley school districts, SISD has one of the lowest tax rates for 2010-2011. Even with the proposed tax increase next year, SISD will have a lower tax rate than La Joya ISD, $1.31, and Mission CISD, $1.30, did this past year. Only four school districts in the Valley had a lower tax rate than SISD last year. (Last year’s tax rates will be available on our website)
The actual increase for I&S will not be known until the bond election is approved and the district finds out what the interest rate will be on the $55 million plan. Some recently refinanced bonds were financed at a rate of 3.68 percent. If growth continues in the area, the tax rate increase could be $0.0800 or $0.0850.
By home value, a $0.097 tax increase would equate to $8.09 more a month for a home valued at $100,000. A home valued at $200,000 would be $16.16 more a month or an increase of $194 a year.
Despite recent cuts in education funding, the district is still eligible to receive state funding to offset 28 to 30 percent of the cost of the proposed high school. The state will help fund the district’s debt service by paying 30 percent of the existing debt allotment for the first few years. The state will then pay 28 percent of the existing debt allotment after those first few years.
Early voting will begin on Oct. 24 with Election Day being Nov. 8.
The board also approved a $97.94 million budget for this year, which includes a general fund balance of $75.2 million.
The school district will spend nearly 63 percent of its budget on payroll costs. By function, almost half of the budget is for instructional purposes. The budget also includes the hiring of 15 new teachers, a general pay increase of $400 for 625 employees and the hiring of four support service employees at a cost of just over $1 million.
The school district approved keeping the current tax rate as well. The tax rate for this school year will remain at $1.2000, $1.0400 for Maintenance and Operations (M&O) and $0.1600 for Interest and Sinking Fund (I&S).
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.