By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cleveland ISD’s unprecedented growth is prompting school trustees to call for yet another bond on May 4. This time around the request is historic – a whopping $250 million, the largest bond ever requested in the history of the district.
With roughly 1,000 students being added to the district annually, and no end in sight to the development of homes inside the district, the need for new campuses and facilities will likely continue for several years into the future, said Cleveland ISD Superintendent Dr. Darrell Myers.
“We are in desperate need of another middle school. Our middle school campus is over capacity by about 300 kids right now. Next year it will be more,” Myers said.
The middle school, which was doubled in size through a 2015 bond for $35 million, is already at capacity with 1,500 students.
“We’ve already outgrown it. By the time we get another middle school on the ground, we will have 2,000-plus students in a middle school designed for 1,500,” Myers said.
The estimated price tag for a new middle school is $85 million.
“With middle schools, you have a lot more activities. Students are more involved than students on an elementary age level. We would need a gymnasium, athletic locker rooms, band hall and other facilities,” Myers said. “We have 30 acres on the same site as the elementary, so it would likely go there.”
An expansion of the high school, paid for through a 2017 bond for $85 million, will push the school’s capacity from 1,100 students to 1,700 students – the same number of students already on that campus with many attending classes in portable buildings.
“I know it sounds odd but our next biggest concern is another elementary school. We have one being built right now outside of Plum Grove but it will be full by the time it opens,” Myers added. “We need to get another one started now.”
Myers said a site for fifth elementary campus has not been determined yet, but with growth concentrated mostly in the subdivisions outside of Plum Grove, that area is a likely location.
Of the $250 million bond, if approved, the district plans to only borrow half and leave the rest for future projects at a time when property tax values can support it.
“That’s pretty much it for what we can sell. We can only sell $125 million more and we will have $125 million left. We will have to see an increase in property taxes to get the rest of the bond,” Myers said. “The remaining $125 million will be held in reserve until then.”
The increase would come as the number of rooftops increase and would not be the result of additional tax burden on the already existing homes and properties within the district.
“Most of our tax base is single-family dwellings. Other districts have industry that pay taxes,” the superintendent said. “We aren’t adding home values at a rapid enough of a pace to keep up with the number of students we are getting.”
Myers is pushing for the state to take on more responsibility for public education, an issue he says he has discussed with state legislators.
“At one point in our past, the state was funding around 60 percent of public schools. It has progressively gone down. It’s about 38 percent right now,” Myers said. “The state is not keeping up. They are using it for other things, other government programs because they have inflationary costs as well. That’s why we have high property taxes.”
The district is holding close to two dozen bond presentations in the coming weeks leading up to the election. Residents in the district are encouraged to attend one of these meetings. (See the schedule at the bottom of this article.)
“The one thing I would ask our patrons and taxpayers to realize is that when you look at these bonds, we are doing it with an eye toward the future,” Myers said. “We are looking at about three years to get them on the ground. We added 1,000 students this year. If we continue at this pace, and there’s every reason to believe that’s going to happen, we have to have a place for these students to be educated.”
The bond election might have been approved by the trustees, but it was actually the suggestion of a community focus group on school facilities, Myers added.
“This isn’t something that the board or I came up with. We have a community focus group made up of business people, parents, folks from the economic development commission and folks from the city who are involved in that group,” Myers said. “The consensus of those folks is that we need to ask for a $250 million bond. It wasn’t something I just pulled out of my back pocket.”
When asked if he thinks the bond will be a hard sell for voters, Myers said, “I am not going to sell. I am going to put the facts out there and the voters of this district can decide what they want as a community. It’s up to them to determine the direction they want this district to go.”