After a long process and a $60,810,000 district improvement recommendation from the Facility Planning Committee, the Stephenville ISD board of trustees has approved an order to call a bond election for May 5. 

“The $60.8 million proposition has several components that obviously affect potential tax rate increase. The retirement of the Henderson bonds will allow for approximately $25,000,000 to be incurred without an increase to our current tax rate; however, the remaining balance of the bond will necessitate an increase of approximately 12 cents,” SISD Superintendent Matt Underwood said in a statement Tuesday. “Mr. (Gary) Sult pointed out that of the previous proposal that led to the construction of the Chamberlin and Central projects, a similar tax rate increase of 12 cents was introduced; however, the board only raised the rate half of what was anticipated.”

The improvement projects include safety and security, high school additions and renovations, extracurricular expansion, fine arts additions and renovations and career and technology education improvements. 

During the bond discussion, board member Cole Parks said he felt more discussion was needed on the projects and ways to pay for them.

“We’ve had one meeting to discuss accomplishing this goal. We haven’t looked into other sources of revenue like grants. A lot of the issues being addressed on this current recommendation were on the previous committee’s list and we’ve done nothing to address those, and now five years later we’re putting it all back on the taxpayers,” Parks said. 

The comments struck a nerve with some of the board members.

“I don’t think the board or district has done nothing in the past five years,” Keri Vanden Berge said. “We did pass a bond that was successful with the two elementary schools and I think we have been very transparent in what we’ve done.”

Board President Dr. Ann Calahan became emotional after the comment.

“I’ve probably been on the board the longest and it hurts to hear we have not been good stewards. When I started, we were in the hole. We got this district out of debt,” Calahan said. “It took us five years and at that time there was not a bus in the district that was not 10 years old. Since then we have replaced every bus so our kids are safe. So yes, it hurts my heart and my pride to hear that we’re not doing our job.”

Osman was concerned about the cost breakdown and said it was a mistake to issue a 30-year bond instead of a 20-year bond.

“I think that’s not fiscally responsible,” Osman said. 

Gary Sult responded about the numbers saying, “There’s a window in there. We don’t want to be too big and dissuade the public from voting for it, but you don’t want it to be too small. I think (the committee and architects) have narrowed that window for us.”

At the beginning of the meeting, the board heard from Lacy Gilley — occupational therapist and mother to Seth Gilley, a fifth grader who lives with spinal muscular atrophy — who was concerned about the improvement projects meeting the needs of students like her son.

“Currently the only restroom that accommodates his need is the teacher’s bathroom. This is unacceptable to me as a mom,” Gilley said. “This will continue to be a challenge as he moves through campuses. Please allow the voters to vote on something that would enhance the environment for all students.”

The board members appreciated Gilley’s concerns, Scott Osman asking if the proposal covered what was presented.

“There are plans for bathroom renovations,” Underwood said. “I think this is a step in the right direction to address those needs.”

The board voted unanimously to call for the bond election.