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Perfect timing
Apr 17, 2014 | 59 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Cletus Bianchi

Striking while the iron is hot.

Making hay while the sun shines.

Mrs. Purser hated clichés when she taught me readin’ and writin’ at KCHS in the 1980s, but their ubiquity offers testimony to their poignancy. Plus her red pen won’t see this before the printer does, although she told me she still grades my work!

I learned more about writing from two years under Mrs. Purser’s watchful eye and red ball point than four semesters in Austin. As a long-haired transfer student from the beach, the halls of KCHS provided important educational opportunities and memories. Mrs. Pat Lyssy, whose husband drummed geometry into so many thick skulls for years, told me those halls opened in January 1961 and the kids carried their books from their old school to the new building.

Clichés aside, the timing is perfect for voters in KCISD to approve a bond package that enlarges, improves, and modernizes all of the campuses to meet the educational needs and goals of Karnes City students for decades to come.

Last August, the KC School Board appointed a Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) to evaluate the current facilities and provide recommendations for the future. The committee, composed of teachers, contractors, business owners, and numerous KCHS graduates, met over a six-month period. The first phase involved information gathering and analysis, from the macro view of the financial environment to the micro view of each campus.

The big picture

Real property appraisals in KCISD have increased nearly 20x in the past four years, that whole Eagle Ford Shale thing you may have heard about. That means property tax revenues have sky-rocketed, which should be a boon for the schools, right? Well, that’s when we learned about M&O versus I&S taxes.

M&O (Maintenance & Operations) are revenues generated to run the schools and what our current property taxes fund. In 2008, the State of Texas decreed that KCISD should receive approximately $4,500 to educate a student multiplied by the number of students, the minimum funding level set by the state. The figure was based upon historical averages, but note, other districts across the state received higher funding based on their historical averages – some schools over $12,000 per student.

For years, KCISD didn’t raise enough in tax revenues, so other wealthier districts chipped in their excesses to fund our operations – Robin Hood. That changed recently and this year KCISD will be sending over $20,000,000 to the state to fund other districts. Seems we can’t raise our threshold despite our increased revenues.

It’s poor manners to complain when we’ve been receiving help for so long. But, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep some of that windfall for our kids either. Enter the I&S tax.

Interest and Sinking fund tax revenues are generated by property taxes as well, but are specifically reserved for voter-approved projects within our school district. None of it goes to Austin or anywhere else. So, a bond approved by KCISD voters directly benefits KCISD students.

And bond interest rates are at or near historical lows, so funding any I&S project is about as inexpensive as possible from a debt perspective.

District report card

Not surprisingly, KCISD has seen a steady enrollment increase over the same period of time, especially at the elementary level. If growth trends continue, RES elementary would be at maximum capacity in about five years, the junior high in ten and the high school in nine. The increased enrollment on the larger elementary campus will “bubble-up” into the smaller secondary campuses. Capacity is a square-foot-per-student measure set by the state, but our district has lower guidelines more concerned with student-teacher ratios and smaller class sizes.

Currently, some elementary students must cross the street from remote classrooms to go to P.E. or the cafeteria and the junior high has gone to two lunch periods.

While none of the existing structures are in danger of collapsing on anyone’s heads, not even in answer to prayers during STAAR testing, the junior high school has some structural issues to address in the near future. And the high school, God bless it, is past fifty and dealing with what architects call “age-appropriate structural concerns.” At nearly the same age myself, I think I know how the building feels. So, the district will likely need to spend significant I&S funds on repair in the near future anyway.

Considerations

The FAC first reviewed conservative measures, specifically remodeling and modernization. Since I’ve remodeled several homes, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the costs were more than half what entirely new facilities would run. And we’d still have an over-fifty building to contend with. So, discussion turned to new construction.

The committee tasked the architect with two primary concerns - campus security and no school interruption. The goal was to have campuses with restricted pedestrian and vehicular traffic and controlled ingress and egress. And to design the projects so students didn’t spend any time in portable classrooms or listening to jack hammers while attending classes.

The bottom line

After several back-and-forths with the architects, the committee approved a recommendation presented to the School Board in February. The proposal essentially calls for an additional primary elementary facility located where the old North Elementary once sat, housing grades pre-K through second, with their own cafeteria, library and small gym, so they aren’t traipsing across the street any longer. The older grades would stay within RES.

The secondary campuses would be in a multi-phase process to avoid educational interruption and provide additional classrooms in the existing junior high, plus a new high school on the eastern edge of the campus with a new cafeteria and gym. The final construction would include a new auditorium and band hall located between the two schools. The existing junior high, cafeteria, gyms, locker rooms and newest classrooms remain integrated into the plan.

Classrooms with all of their associated requirements cost $170-$200 per square foot, pretty close to many homes in San Antonio and Austin. The auditorium is closer to $300. Technology updates alone run $1.6 million, but we need our students on the cutting edge of technology. With architect and engineering fees, traffic surveys, and contingencies, the proposal in front of the voters is for $45 million and includes furnishings.

Bond structure and payment

The FAC opted to recommend a shorter-term bond for several reasons. Although optimistic property values will remain high in the near term, if oil and gas production does fall off, we didn’t want the district saddled with long-term payments and extra debt service, preferring to pay off the new bonds as quickly as feasible.

The applicable I&S tax rate is estimated at 12.05¢ per $100 of valuation, or about $120.50 per year (ten bucks a month) on a $100,000 home; unless you are over age 65 in which case you are exempt from the tax increase. Actually, the new tax rate would be lower than the 2006 rate thanks to the increased valuations.

If you refer to the table on this page, you’ll note that all of us homeowners in the KCISD will only end up paying for 0.67% of the bond package, or about $300,000. Our combined farms and ranches only contribute an additional 2.41%.

Oil companies and mineral interests will foot over 85% of the costs of the bond!

Now is the time!

I simply can’t envision a better time for the voters of KCISD to improve our school facilities. High appraisal values and low interest rates coincide to keep debt service low. Increasing enrollment will continue to strain our existing campuses. Technological tools are critical to the future success of our graduates.

What was good enough for us may not adequately prepare them. Now is our time to build for future generations.

Please join the FAC and school administrators at the KCISD auditorium on Tuesday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. for a more detailed description of the proposal in front of the voters.

Early voting runs April 28-May 6 in the courthouse annex and Election Day is May 10 at the Karnes City Hall Auditorium.
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