The Sharyland school board has until Friday, Feb. 12 to decide if last year’s failed $40M bond election will be back on the ballot in May.
During their regular board meeting held Monday, Sharyland trustees called the Saturday, May 1 election to order where the seats occupied by school board members Melissa Smith and Jose “Pepe” Garcia will be contested.
At that meeting, district finance director Ismael Gonzalez informed the board that the deadline for the district to decide on calling a bond election for the May 1 election is set for Friday, Feb. 12, the same date as the campaign filing deadline.
Over the last month, the board discussed in previous meetings the possibility of bringing back the November 2020 $40M bond election, which was split up into two propositions. The $34 million Proposition A would’ve renovated the entire Sharyland High School and Sharyland Advanced Academic Academy while expanding the band hall and cafeteria that students from both campuses share while also adding a new wing dedicated to 6th graders at John H. Shary Elementary School. The elementary campus would also receive a new library with computer labs and a new parking lot.
The $6 million Proposition B would’ve gone toward the creation of a new central administration building to be used as headquarters for the district after the city of Mission condemned the original building in 2016.
The propositions received only 46% and 41% of the votes during last November, respectively.
The bond could return before voters with one major difference.
“The issue in November with the bond was a tax rate increase due to interest rates at the time being at 3.12%, today they’re closer to 2.7%,” Bobby Villareal, a representative with the district’s financial advisor firm Estrada Hinojosa & Company informed the board. “With the interest rates this low and several refinances we’re expected to do for the district within the next several years, we’re seeing a scenario where this bond is passed without having to raise the tax rate for homeowners in the area.”
The Sharyland tax rate currently stands at $1.2808 per $100 valuation for a home valued at $200,000. $1.0492 from the tax rate is to be used for the purpose of maintenance and operations and the remaining $0.2316 is to be used for the purpose of principal and interest on bonded debt.
During Monday’s meeting, Villarreal informed the board that the firm had recently refinanced a loan that will save the district $10 million.
“You have refinancing for about eight more loans over the next nine years, creating savings,” Villarreal said. “There’s a substantial one in 2025 where we see $19 million in savings, that’s what gives us some level of comfort.”
The board also discussed the possibility of waiting until November to hold a bond election to possibly decrease the $40 million amount as the district’s long-range facility planning committee will meet with the architect in charge of the project to go over cost estimates for the facility upgrades again to see if there’s a change in the prices.
Gonzalez informed the board of the newly introduced House Bill 35 in the Texas Legislature that, if passed, will go into effect September 1 and calls for all bond elections to be held in November. The bill also requires all bond elections to have a turnout of at least a quarter of all registered voters for validity purposes.
“I want voters to realize what a desperate situation our needs are,” Sharyland trustee Melissa Smith said. “We need people to understand how much all of this will cost. What a shame if five years from now the students walk into the same small classrooms and cafeteria and there’s no change that we can do. It’s very plain to me that we need this bond and the $40 million.”
Board President Keith Padilla said the board will likely vote on having the bond election appear on the ballot in May in a special called meeting sometime next week.
Padilla, who is a member of the long-range facility planning committee, said the district needs to work with voters to see the need for the facility upgrades.
“I think everyone is for doing something, [voters] just need to see a little bit more detail on what exactly that is,” Padilla said. “There’s a few who want to see the [bond total] adjusted and to show good faith to the community, we’re trying to work with them and what they voted for. It’s just nailing down what the greatest needs are and tackling those.”
At the meeting, the board once again tackled the subject of open enrollment.
The district remains the only one in the area without open enrollment and is facing a loss of revenue of over $2 million in the next school year due to a projected decline in attendance. At a December board meeting, the district said it would need 162 students transferred into the district in the next school year to maintain the same enrollment totals of the 2019 school year.
The board was presented with a proposal of having a limited open enrollment program that would be renewed every year. Much like the district’s tuition-based enrollment program, students will apply to the district and be accepted based on their academic and behavioral record and be placed in Sharyland campuses based on availability.
District Superintendent Dr. Maria M. Vidaurri added that she would like to see the proposal presented to the board during the February school board meeting so the trustees can vote on it by then.
“We see growth in the area but them attending our district is years away, we’re looking for bodies in the classrooms in August,” Gonzalez said.