Response to Letter to the Editor
We have been working hard to make sure that the Neotribune is a public asset. I would like to think that we show every side of every story so that the public can be informed, and as a community we can prosper and grow.
After reading Mr. Morrison’s letter, I decided to call the superintendent and find out for my self if some of the things in the letter are true. Here are my findings:
- Contingency funds for projects of this magnitude are a normal way of doing business. I don’t dispute the fact that we should watch how this money is spent, but the fact that there is money in for contingency items should not be a red flag. When asking Mr. Velasco, his statement was: “This money can be used for items that could not be a part of the immediate bond package, but any amount over $25,000 would have to be approved by the board in a public meeting.”
- I was informed that the football stadium will include a press box and a concession area with restrooms. The parking lot and drive way have not been included in this first phase, but is part of the overall plan. The current plan is to have a white gravel road for temporary parking and drive way.
- The 0.4030 per $100 evaluation over 35 years on the $12 million is outdated information that Mr. Morrison obtained from a February 5, 2015 document supplied to the district by Jeff Robert, Managing Director from FirstSouthwest. The latest document (April 6, 2015) shared by Superintendent Velasco to the public during the April 20, 2015 board meeting shows that each phase is for 30 years at a 0.4270 per $100 evaluation. The 0.4270 comes from the 35 cents added to the existing 0.0770 in the I & S debt from the construction of the dome.
- The latest I & S Tax Rate Projections (April 6, 2015) shows the interest of $11.1 million dollars over 30 years. I have learned that the state share for the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA) is nearly $6 million dollars. This amount is what the taxpayers save on this bond project.
- I talked to Mr. Velasco about the priorities statement. His response was: "School board priorities were developed during a public master planning workshop held on December 4, 2014 and at the first community bond meeting held on January 12, 2015. The board members expressed that they understood that while they had priority items, they felt that the community may have different priorities. That is the main reason while a building committee of community volunteers was established. While the outcome of the bond package may not be perfect for all, it does cover the priorities set out by the board:
- Education: 10 classrooms and media center at Stafford / Cafetorium at Italy High School
- Security: Meeting electrical building codes at Stafford and Italy High School; covered drop-off area and additional airlock entry at Stafford
- Technology: Two science labs at Stafford Elementary
- Science: A new science lab with an outdoor accessibility at Stafford Elementary
- Agriculture: A new ag building with two classrooms and workshop. This is also a part of Security."
- I was also interested in the attendance numbers, and although from 2006 the numbers in Mr. Morrison’s letter were accurate, the highest enrollment number for the 2014-2015 school year has actually reached 575 students. The district’s current student enrollment as of today is 559 students. That is still 46 students enrolled above the ending count of 513 in 2013-2014.
- When asked about the ADA issues, Velasco said: “Funding for American with Disabilities Act issues are part of the overall master plan. While not all areas are covered immediately, this current bond package will meet ADA compliance in the ag workshop and classrooms, the cafetorium, and the football stadium and restrooms at the junior high and high school.”
- What is this general fund, and what is it used for? I did some online research and almost exclusively you find articles about administrators misappropriating funds. I hope as I am sure all of our community does, that our school board will keep an eye on these funds. I asked Superintendent Velasco, and he explained that while there is money in fund balance, the district has to have at least $2 million dollars in cash flow in order to cover payroll for the months of April, May, June, and July. These are the months that the State does not send the district funds." He also stated that the board has agreed to use part of those remaining funds in any way necessary to cover items that the bond does not.
- While the bond will not impact citizens that are 65 years and older or those that are disabled, the balance will be left to the citizens of Italy and their heirs. True. I have talked to a few others in town that are against this bond, and they all have one thing in common: They don’t believe Italy will grow to support this bond. I personally do not have that same feeling. Italy is already growing! The interstate is expanding, and so is the metroplex.
I have the upmost respect for Mr. Morrison’s effort. We need people in town that are not only involved, but will stand up and look for the best way to do things. I hope that this article brings to light some of the more recent details, and that it helps everyone make their decision as educated as possible.
I love Italy, and I want to see it succeed. If we as a community don’t feel this is the best plan, then so be it, let’s come up with another one that works. I personally feel like this is a good start to something that is long overdue. Let’s plan for the growth of our town, citizens, and most importantly our children.