Voters in the Texas City Independent School District will decide on a $136.1 million bond this May after trustees on Tuesday called for a referendum to build four new schools to replace aging campuses in La Marque and Texas City.
The bond initiative includes funding for four new replacement schools after three aging La Marque campuses were badly damaged during Hurricane Harvey. A fourth school, Guajardo Elementary School in Texas City, needed costly repairs and other upgrades to meet codes and would be replaced new if the bond were approved, officials said.
The bond also includes three districtwide initiatives to improve safety, repair roofs, increase parking and provide computers to each seventh- to 12th-grade student, according to the district.
If approved, the bond would increase the school district tax rate by about 8 cents per $100 valuation, according to the district. The increase would mean about $80 more annually in school district property taxes on a home valued at $100,000, according to the district.
The tax rate increase would not affect homeowners who are age 65 and older and have homestead exemptions, officials said. The district now spans parts of Texas City and La Marque after the state order the closure and annexation of La Marque Independent School District in 2015.
“There are different bond issues in different districts from time to time,” said Hal Biery, president of the school board. “Sometimes it’s a luxury: you’re OK but you want to get better. This bond issue is not a luxury. This bond issue is a necessity to provide proper facilities for the students and staff.”
It took a lot of community involvement during the last school district bond election, which passed in 2007 for about $122 million, said David Moss, vice president of the board. Moss encouraged residents within the school district to inform their friends and neighbors to get out to vote in the May 5 election.
The Texas City school district has been successful in educating kids and needed to continue that work as a joint district, Moss said.
“It does take facilities to do this,” Moss said. “Possibly some kids have been working with one hand tied behind their backs and we need to release those ties and give them the facilities, equipment and learning tools they need.”
But Moss also said residents were being forced to pick up where the state has left them. Moss criticized state lawmakers for not properly funding public education and shifting the burden to homeowners through property taxes, he said. Each of the 13 years he has served on the school board, the state has sent fewer dollars per student to school districts, he said.
“If we don’t take it seriously, public education is not going to be what we all knew it to be in the past,” Moss said. “Public education is in a war and we need to let our legislators know that we’re tired of having to take it on the local level.”
Trustee Dickey Campbell also noted the tax burden on local property owners, urging that the decision had not been made lightly but is needed to provide proper education to all district students, he said. Repairing damaged schools would ultimately be more expensive and imprudent than building new, he said.
“Quite honestly, I think we all wish we were not faced with the circumstances we are faced with,” Campbell said. “But we’re here and we really do not have a good alternative.”
More than 40 residents attended the meeting Tuesday and some spoke passionately about the need for the bond. The Rev. James Daniels called for unity in the community. He served on the committee of more than 70 Texas City and La Marque residents studying schools, infrastructure and school population within the district.
The committee, which began meeting in November, last week recommended the $136.1 million bond election in a presentation to trustees. Before the vote Tuesday, he urged board members to call the bond election for the $136.1 million price tag proposed by the committee.
“There’s no way we can make it unless we realize that we are one district,” Daniels said. “We are one district and if we’re one district we’re going to have to work together. There’s no way we could get everything done this trip around, but friends and neighbors everything that needs to be done will get done.”
At least one Texas City resident said they wished the bond had gone further to address other aging campuses that weren’t included. James Simmons, a history teacher at La Marque High School, said the campus had many shortcomings and wasn’t properly serving his students.
“Our school district is facing funding challenges — money coming from this place and that place — but I’m shocked there wasn’t more included in the bond for La Marque High School,” Simmons said.
Some of the school’s classrooms lack doorknobs, the pool is green and unusable, and the atmosphere is generally drab and dilapidated, Simmons said. Students feel less inspired when they have to attend a school in such dire condition, he said.
“It looks like it’s out of an ‘80s movie,” Simmons said. “My job is to advocate for my students in my classroom. I don’t want them to feel like this when they get to high school.”
Trustees understood the district faced challenges beyond what will be solved in this bond alone, Campbell said.
“I can assure you every one of these trustees feels his hurt,” Campbell said of Simmons’ comments. “I promise you if there’s anything we can do about it we will.”
The district is using some annexation funding from the state to reduce the cost of the bond and would continue to seek that funding, Campbell said.
No residents spoke against the bond issue during the meeting. The referendum will be held May 5.