Parent Amaury Medina listened intently from the middle of Paschal High School’s auditorium as Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner discussed the district’s proposed $1.5 billion bond.

The mother of two boys paid close attention to Scribner as he talked about how middle schools would be improved and new buildings, including new schools and small stadiums, would be built in areas that need them — but only if voters give the OK next month. Medina has seen firsthand how much work is needed in Fort Worth ISD’s campuses. Still, she could not let go of one concern that affects her family and many across the district.

“Everything is good, but what happens is that we are paying a lot in taxes,” Medina said in Spanish. “There are families that only have the father working. My husband works and I stopped working; you can see the effect and to be able to pay, both parents need to be working.”

District officials stress the bond won’t affect the tax rate. However, it is a factor many voters are weighing as they consider whether the proposal deserves their support when they head to the polls next week. The bond calls for improvements at middle schools, new elementary campuses and upgrades at extracurricular centers and stadiums. 

When to early vote

The early voting period for the Nov. 2 election starts Oct. 18 and ends Oct. 29. Locally, the ballot will feature elections for Tarrant County, Fort Worth ISD, Benbrook, Keller, Southlake, Trophy Club, Watauga, White Settlement, Azle ISD, Carroll ISD, Godley ISD, Mansfield ISD, White Settlement ISD and the Benbrook Water Authority.

Here’s when polls will be open:

  • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 18-22
  • 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 23
  • 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24
  • 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 25-29

Click here for a full list of Tarrant County’s 48 early voting locations.

Four propositions will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. Proposition A calls for more than $1.2 billion to renovate middle schools and build three new elementary campuses. Proposition B proposes spending $98.3 million to upgrade fine arts centers. Proposition C proposes $105 million to build three 5,000-seat stadiums. Proposition D sets aside $76.2 million to enhance existing athletic facilities.

Opponents say the bond is too expensive and won’t improve student outcomes in a district that has seen the number of underperforming campuses increase and has suffered declining enrollment.

“As we continue to get the message out of what this bond would accomplish, not only in terms of schools and the classroom but also in terms of in arts and athletics, educating the whole child, we certainly are hopeful that we’ll be able to invest in our students and allow every student the opportunity to excel in classrooms, fine arts and athletics,” Scribner told the Fort Worth Report.

‘Equal opportunity’

Scribner sees school buildings as a form of equity. He wants children in Fort Worth ISD to have access to facilities that have a similar quality to those in more suburban districts, such as Carroll ISD or Aledo ISD. About 85% of students in Fort Worth ISD are economically disadvantaged. 

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner speaks to someone at the district bond meeting on Sept. 29. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“Infrastructure is equal opportunity,” the superintendent said, noting education is a key component of developing the local workforce. “We believe that education is the way to break the cycle of poverty.”

Proposition A

Proposition A makes up the bulk of Fort Worth ISD’s bond proposal. The $1.2 billion proposal is aimed at renovating middle schools and building several new elementary campuses in the district. Here’s a look at the list of Proposition A projects:

  • Applied Learning Academy – $39,076,858
  • Daggett Middle – $34,842,038
  • Forest Oak Middle – $55,126,910
  • J. Martin Jacquet Middle – $44,415,541
  • William James Middle – $53,453,136
  • Kirkpatrick Middle – $39,238,446
  • Leonard Middle – $50,664,762
  • Jean McClung Middle – $28,987,539
  • McLean Middle – $46,909,378
  • McLean Sixth Grade Center – $27,382,126
  • WA Meachum Middle – $51,880,657
  • Meadowbrook Middle – $48,860,151
  • William Monnig Middle – $55,791,104
  • Riverside Middle – $48,746,519
  • Rosemont Middle – $70,511,538
  • Stripling Middle – $60,942,462
  • Wedgwood Middle – $62,213,434
  • Westpark Relief Elementary – $59,364,479
  • Young Women’s Leadership Academy – $19,494,924
  • Early Childhood Centers – $13,798,232
  • New Elementary Campus No. 1 – $44,733,186
  • New Elementary Campus No. 2 – $44,733,186
  • New Elementary Campus No. 3 – $44,733,186
  • Property – $26,375,000
  • Schools and programs of choice – $41,935,915

Investments cannot be solely focused on technology, libraries, media centers or science labs, he said. It has to be in a whole facility. By doing that, Scribner expects the refreshed schools to impact how students perceive their campuses. Of the district’s 27 middle schools, 18 were built before or in 1960.

“We would want our students to certainly feel proud of the place they go to school,” Scribner said. Renovated campuses will have greater academic support, better safety fixtures and ventilation, he said.

Middle school renovations are the bulk of this year’s proposal.

The bond also calls for a new elementary school in the Ventana neighborhood in the growing Benbrook area. The latest development in Benbrook, which is in the western portion of Fort Worth ISD, is a 492-acre master-planned community by Tri Pointe Homes.

That growing area won’t be the only new elementary school as part of the bond. Three communities in Fort Worth ISD also will get new campuses to replace existing facilities. The replacement campuses will go in communities that haven’t seen new construction, such as Stop Six, Eastern Hills and South Fort Worth. Which campuses will be replaced will be determined at a later date.

“We’ll work with those specific school communities to determine which would be the sites that would see the replacement elementaries,” the superintendent said.

That approach also will be used to determine where three new 5,000-seat stadiums will be built if voters sign off on Proposition C. State law requires athletic facilities to be a separate bond proposition. 

The major chambers of commerce in Fort Worth have thrown their support behind the bond. 

Sultan Cole, chairman of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce‘s board of directors, sees the bond as an opportunity to give all students a first-class education.

“The days of less than equitable investments in underserved communities have passed, but we want to make sure those days never return,” Cole said in a statement. “Educational equity must take place in two critical areas: instruction, and construction. Both go hand-in-hand.”

‘Strong property values’

The superintendent has been going from school to school to inform residents about the bond. Scribner has emphasized one key thing: The bond will not increase the debt service tax rate.

The debt service tax rate — one of two rates that make up the total property tax — goes toward paying off the district’s debt. The current debt service rate is 29.2 cents, which has stayed at that level since the 2017-18 school year.

Fort Worth ISD’s overall property tax is $1.3432 per $100 valuation. Currently, the average homeowner would owe $2,369.81 in property taxes to the school district. The average net taxable value of a home in Fort Worth ISD is $176,430.

When trustees consider a new tax rate in the summer, the overall rate will likely be different than what is currently levied. The state tells districts how much their maintenance-and-operations rate can be, depending on local property values.

Regardless of the bond’s fate, residents likely will have higher property tax bills to Fort Worth ISD next year because of increasing property appraisals. Appraisals jumped 8.2% this year. District officials are using this growth period to their advantage to push for the bond.

“Thankfully, with our strong property values here in Fort Worth, specifically Fort Worth ISD, we’re able to do this by just keeping our (debt service) tax rate at the same level and not requiring an increase,” Scribner said.

Fort Worth ISD expects to bring in an additional $32 million in property tax revenue this school year when compared to last year. The district expects to raise $602 million in property taxes.

Fort Worth ISD has more than $1.2 billion in debt, according to district officials.

Compared to other similar urban districts, Fort Worth ISD has the lowest debt per student at $14,998. Nearby Dallas ISD has $24,893 of debt per student, and neighboring Arlington ISD has $18,631 of debt per student.

If all four propositions are approved, district officials anticipate repaying the bond over the next 25 years. Bond projects are expected to be completed within five years.

Assembling the bond

Bonds can be put together through numerous ways, said Grady Slaydon, a facilities services consultant for the Texas Association of School Boards. However, it falls onto a district’s school board and administrators to determine the best way to do so.

The best bonds have projects and programs that have the support of the community, Slaydon said. The starting point for that is often identifying the district’s needs through an assessment of facilities. That assessment, Slaydon said, can be used for future bond programs.

Fort Worth ISD’s 2021 bond is based on a facilities needs assessment from 2017 that evaluated the needs at all campuses.

“With the cost of construction these days it’s difficult for districts to achieve remedies for their needs in one bond issue,” Slaydon said. “Buildings are so expensive that many districts have to phase it and try to approach the projects in some sort of order and different packages in order to be able to afford corrections to all the needs they have.”

Public input is another important factor in assembling a bond. Some districts have the community provide feedback from start to finish with bonds, Slaydon said. Other districts will have public forums where residents ask questions and provide feedback, like Fort Worth ISD, he said.

Fort Worth ISD school board member Anael Lebuanos at Paschal High School on Sept. 29. The meeting was held to discuss the district’s bond. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

When they called for the bond, several Fort Worth ISD trustees were concerned about what they thought was a lack of community input for the bond. In an interview with the Report, Scribner said public input from several district committees on facilities shaped this bond. 

“The community has certainly been involved, and, ultimately, the community will make the choice as to whether to continue with our long-range facilities master plan in terms of improving middle schools after having improved the high schools,” Scribner said. “If the community votes in a different direction, then we will certainly recalibrate our next steps.”

‘This is expensive’

Some Fort Worth ISD residents are opposed to the bond, the biggest proposed in the district’s history.

Resident Joe Palmer asks the Fort Worth ISD superintendent questions at the district bond meeting on Sept. 29. Palmer is worried his property taxes will increase. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Resident Joe Palmer has told the school board his property taxes are already too high. 

“This is expensive, and every year it goes up. It’s on you,” Palmer told trustees as he presented his tax bill to the school board.

He expects his tax bill to increase if the bond is approved. He also took offense to supporters touting the bond as being for education.

“It’s not for education — it’s for three stadiums, three sports complexes,” Palmer said. “I don’t appreciate it.” 

‘They come up when there’s need’

The political action committee Our Kids Our Future is the group advocating for the bond. The Rev. Charles Johnson is the campaign treasurer. The PAC, formed in April, raised $118,450, according to an Oct. 4 campaign finance report.

In 2017, the last time the district had a bond election, Citizens for Classroom Excellence PAC supported the $750 million proposal. The committee raised $148,315 to push for the program. The 2017 bond earned 70% of voters support.

Fort Worth ISD voters also OK’d a $490 million bond in 2013 and $520 million package in 2007.

The timing of the bond could be a strategic decision, said James Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political science professor. Local governments and school districts want these propositions to pass so they place them in an election that doesn’t feature other hotly contested races, such as for president, governor or U.S. Congress.

The logic, Riddlesperger said, is that fewer voters means an easier time passing a bond. However, that strategic maneuver is not the only pressing concern for officials.

“The other issue is bonds come up when they come up when there’s need for more money to accomplish a project — that’s going to be on the ballot when that’s going to be on the ballot,” he said. “Some of this is probably strategic, but some of it is probably serendipitous as well.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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