Connallly ISD staff, parents push $39 million bond package for new school

Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Connally Independent School District employees are pushing the community to vote in favor of a second attempt at a $39 million bond package for a new elementary school, saying the kids deserve better.

“It would give our students the availability to have the latest and greatest,” said Jill Bottelberghe, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Connally ISD. “Our students need this in order to come into the next century of learning.”

As early voting got underway, school district officials held an informational meeting Monday night to explain why a new school is necessary.

“It’s a dire need for our students,” said Bottelberghe.

During the meeting, Superintendent Wesley Holt said the elementary school, half of which was built back in 1961 and the other half in the 1980s, isn’t safe anymore, especially with its proximity to Interstate-35.

“Back when the school was built, the traffic was not as heavy,” said Holt.

During his presentation, Holt said the school’s pipes were corroded, it had no fire suppression system, the boys were going to the bathroom in an open trough, and the classrooms and library didn’t meet current Texas Education Agency (TEA) or Americans with Disabilities act (ADA) standards,

Electric providers like Oncor won’t give them additional electricity for technology upgrades, he said, because the building can’t safely take anymore power.

Plus, the gym, which is small and has tile floors, had cracks in the roof and maintenance had to install wooden panels on the walls because screws were coming through and cutting kids.

“You’ve got to decide whether our kids deserve a new school,” Holt told the audience. “Keep in mind: as the school goes, the community goes, I promise you.”

The same bond failed in 2021; officials say they didn’t have ample time, only three months, to campaign for support.

Ahead of Monday night’s meeting, Jennifer Sitton was handing out flyers to parents in the primary school drop off line to let them know what the district was proposing.

“They’re making the best choice for our kids,” said Sitton. “Academically we need an up to date space, we need a safe space for the kids, financially we need to make good use of taxpayer money and continuing to pump money in a school that has outlived its life and is no longer at a safe location just really doesn’t make sense.”

The mother of eleven has eight children currently enrolled in Connally ISD schools.

“The elementary school is right on the I-35 access road: that’s not where I want my kid playing,” said Sitton. “It is kind of a mess, and we’re really looking forward to our community coming out and supporting our school district and supporting our kids.”

The new school would be built on vacant land the district already owns right next to the primary and junior high schools and would house more than 900 kids, helping account for the district’s growth by expanding to grades 3-6 (currently the elementary school only houses grades 4-5).

While plans include an appropriate-sized school gym, officials say the new school would also bring facilities the school doesn’t currently have at all including a fine arts center, a media center, a science lab, and a secure vestibule where visitors check in.

While no one at Monday night’s meeting appeared to be against the bond, there has been heavy opposition online, especially from the Elm Mott area, with residents not wanting their property taxes to increase.

“As of now, 2021-2022, our taxes are the lowest they’ve been in 20 years,” said Holt.

If the bond passes, it would mean an extra $12 per month for a $150,000 home.

However, officials say if a new statewide homestead exemption increase passes in November it would lover the amount to $10 per month, plus property taxes won’t increase for residents over 65.

District officials add, it would still cost money not to build a new school because they’d still need $20 million for major renovations.

“Even if the bond does not pass, there’s going to have to be some tough decisions made as far as how we’re going to keep this current building open,” said Bottelberghe.

District officials say, since 2010, Connally ISD has spent more than $10.7 million on facility improvements out of the district’s general fund.

“It (the bond) will help us as far as maintenance costs, reduce them significantly from having to upkeep an older building,” said Bottelberghe.

If the bond passes in May, the new school would likely be finished and operational sometime in 2024.

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