Carthage ISD officials are looking at possible projects to be included in a 2020 bond — and discussing whether they want to hire an architect to help implement a long-range facility plan that would guide future bond propositions.
Superintendent John Wink told trustees Monday that since the district has funded upgrades at almost all of its facilities and does not necessarily need to build new buildings, the next step is figuring out how to use future bond monies to make cost-efficient changes to existing buildings as needed.
“How do we anticipate what the needs are going to be three years from now? Four years from now?” He said. “One of the things that this board has done very good is you’ve anticipated how to structure your (interest & sinking) debt in such as way as to keep the tax rate low and roughly the same for our constituents. But now we want to try to see now that we’ve upgraded almost all of our facilities, we want to now start thinking how do we get more pro-active and start making those changes to upgrade those facilities without increasing the tax rate and do it at the most cost-effective way?”
Carthage ISD regularly seeks what it calls “maintenance bonds” from voters based on its status as a recapture school under the so-called Robin Hood program. The idea is to keep more taxpayer money in the schools instead of giving it to the state by asking voters to approve spending that money for specific items. Previous bonds have included funds for new staff vehicles, buses, technology, roof repairs and security upgrades. During the 2019-20 school year, the district used bond monies to pay for things like $331,274 for new buses and $815,000 in technology such as Chromebooks as part of a new one-to-one program.
Potential 2020 projects include improving the ag shop ventilation, parking at the junior high school and primary school, and re-keying campuses and the warehouse. Wink said they would break down any potential maintenance bond into recurring costs, such as custodial maintenance, and preventative costs, such as replacing HVAC systems. Wink said officials were working to make any bond proposal something that would not raise the tax rate. More information about a proposed 2020 bond is planned at the district’s December meeting.
But Wink also asked trustees Monday to let the district seek qualifications from architects so that they could hire someone to help the district develop a long-range facility plan. Carthage ISD, Wink said, was in a different position than fast-growing schools: They won’t always need to build a new building. Instead, he said, they will need to use funds to transform what they already have.
It’s “finding an architect that can be a partner with us to come up with projects that can transform, upgrade our classrooms, upgrade facilities, upgrade buildings such as this building to make them more functional,” Wink said. “So it’d be having that architect on board to help facilitate that process. The other thing would be to have that architect on board to help us facilitate a long-range facility planning committee where we’re asking stakeholders from the community to join us and talk about, let’s look at our buildings and what could we do to make our buildings even better than they already are.”
Wink told trustees he wanted the district to take a more pro-active approach in planning facility improvements. He pointed to things like the Baker-Koonce Intermediate School cafeteria.
“We need to rethink: What are we going to do with that space?” Wink said. “As you think about the PACE Academy, that is a space that is going to have to either be a complete renovation or possible relocation to another site, which would be a new building. So rather than us thinking about the project, I would like somebody who is more qualified and can see whether districts are doing and can have more insight and more forethought about where does this district need to be 50 years from now.”
Trustees remained undecided on the measure Monday and ultimately tabled the discussion for a future date. But several trustees expressed tentative support, including Trustee Elzie Hicks, who noted an architect could help the district find weak points in their security systems, and Paul Beatty, who said the proposal mirrored what he does as a contractor, joking “I tell them, and when I tell them the price, they usually don’t call back. But that’s basically it that we’d be doing.”
“I like the idea because we know the money’s already coming,” Beatty said. “The bond is going to be —otherwise we’re going to be sending all that money away. To have a plan and be pro-active, I don’t know how much it costs to retain one, but we could find that out.”
Mary Ella Sherman told Wink she’s enjoyed and found it helpful for the board to be involved in project discussions — and wanted to continue that if his proposal to hire an architect moved forward.
“It kind of keeps us up-to-date with what’s going on and to me it’s just been interesting and helpful,” she said.
District officials on Monday also unanimously approved a declaration to use $100,000 in excess funds from the cafeteria fund balance for future construction.
The district is required to keep three months’ worth of operating expenses in a fund for its food service program under the National School Lunch Program. Wink said they were preventing having an excess amount of money in that fund balance with this designation.
“Sodexo has done a very good job of helping us build a positive fund balance in our cafeteria program, and we actually have in excess of $100,000 over the three months’ operating costs,” Wink said. “Mr. (Steve) Zurline will be getting with Mr. (Lloyd) Williams to kind of evaluate our cafeterias and then make plans for how we’re going to optimize those funds so we can make upgrades at all of our cafeterias.”