February 15, 2023 553 PM
MARFA — The Marfa Independent School District Board of Trustees announced on Monday that it will not proceed with placing a new school bond proposal on the ballot in the upcoming May 6 General Election.
The board had been discussing next steps since its $57 million bond proposal for a new K-12 campus failed to win voter support in the November 8 General Election, with just 36% of a total of 800 voters showing support for the initiative. $57 million was the maximum amount the district could propose under state law, which limits how much a school district can raise the I&S tax rate.
At previous board meetings, trustees voiced support for putting the bond back up for a public vote this May — but at Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Oscar Aguero said the new estimates for building a K-12 school had shot up significantly since this fall due to inflation, and proceeding with the same project would cost the district closer to $70 million.
Aguero said considering the inflated price tag — significantly more than could be covered by a bond proposal — it would be unwise to attempt another election. The initial attempt by the board to pass a $57 million bond was met by pushback from locals who considered the cost too high considering the district’s declining enrollment and area’s rising property taxes.
“Right now, it doesn’t look like we could go for that,” said Aguero, adding “the numbers are what they are — I can’t change those.”
But the challenges the district faces with its facilities — including disrepair the board had hoped to address with bond funds — will continue, said Aguero. The superintendent and trustees are now left to reassess how best to tackle those issues. The board is currently evaluating what construction projects it could undertake within its means.
“We [are now] talking about gutting some of it, keeping some of it, renovating, maybe knocking [down] some things,” said Aguero. “So the conversation is there.”
Claycomb Associates, Architects, an architecture firm focusing on Texas schools that offers bond passage support — which worked with the board to envision a reimagined campus and sell the bond to the public — is still in conversations with Aguero about how to improve campus facilities. The district originally voiced the need for a bond to upgrade its aging facilities, which it said was saddled by costly repairs and a scattered, piecemeal campus that raised functionality and safety concerns.
The district is now exploring the option of phasing its projects based on its lending capacity in the future, explained Aguero. The district has just under $6 million in outstanding debt from previous bonds passed in 2003 and 2007, which it is scheduled to pay off by 2036.
“We did talk a lot about trying to do this in phases,” said Aguero. “But it would take a little longer to truly make the master plan.”
Aguero said the district might choose to renovate some of its existing buildings, including the elementary school, which he said had a solid exterior but could use an interior overhaul (under the previous bond-funded plan, the elementary school was slated for demolition to make way for a unified K-12 campus). Costs for that project could total around $18 million. He said he was waiting on estimates to see what it would cost to add additional Career Technical Education (CTE) spaces and upgrade the district’s existing science labs.
The board is also considering the strategy of placing individual propositions on the ballot, said Aguero, as opposed to one sweeping initiative. For example, it could place a few more specific propositions on the ballot, like one for the elementary school renovation, one for safety and security upgrades and more, allowing the community to pick and choose what they support.
“Those propositions are a lot more specific, because when we said we’re doing a new K-12 school, it covered a lot of things,” said Aguero.
The district will continue to work with Claycomb Associates, Architects, said Aguero. The firm has not yet been paid by the district but will be contracted to complete any forthcoming construction and renovation projects that result from passing bonds. Aguero said he felt the firm was invested in facilitating “a more updated building that will really facilitate the great things that are happening here.”
Board President Teresa Nuñez urged the need for more public involvement in future school district bond planning, including hearing more student perspectives to help inform the process. (The series of public meetings the board held over this past summer to gather public feedback for the bond were sparsely attended.)
“Let’s get the school, the students involved — this is their school too — and get their voices heard and bring them in,” said Nuñez.