Voters in Cleveland ISD will go to the polls on Nov. 8 to decide the fate of a $115 million bond referendum that, if passed, will help the District address campus overcrowding.
If voters approve the referendum, the District will borrow money to fund construction of a new middle school, a new career and technical education building, convert Cleveland Middle School to a ninth and tenth-grade campus, and make improvements to Southside Elementary and Douglass Learning Academy.
Superintendent Stephen McCanless explained how the bond will be funded through a zero-tax rate increase at a town collaboration meeting on Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Cleveland Civic Center. Similar to low voter turnout during elections, only a handful of local residents attended the meeting, which had been advertised on social media in the days leading up to the event. The majority of the audience was Cleveland ISD employees.
McCanless presented information on the bond projects and explained that the District’s property tax rate has actually dropped from $1.2470 in 2021 to $1.2118 in 2022. Ad valorem taxes are collected per $100 of property value, so a home valued at $100,000 in 2021 was taxed at $1,247 annually and a home valued at $100,000 in 2021 was taxed at $1,211. However, overall home valuations in Liberty County increased in 2022, an action prescribed by the Texas Comptroller’s Office and carried out through the Central Appraisal District. This meant that the actual tax bill may have remained the same or increased depending on the property and improvements.
The projects for the $115 million bond, which is the bonding capacity for Cleveland ISD, were decided by a bond committee comprised of community members, business owners, retired educators and others, who met every other week from April to July. Their suggestions were later supported by Cleveland ISD’s board of trustees. As Cleveland ISD is projected to continue growing at a rapid pace, fueled by developments in and around Cleveland, the bond will address overcrowding in classrooms and limit the use of portable building classrooms. Essentially, the $115 million bond will buy Cleveland ISD a small measure of time before overcrowding becomes an issue again.
With demographic studies projecting that Cleveland ISD will have 13,000 students for the 2023-2024 school year, and a whopping 23,000 students by 2031, it is a matter of when a new bond will be passed, not if, as the District will soon run out of space for students. Meanwhile, the costs to build new facilities continues to rise.
In November 2021, Cleveland ISD voters rejected a $150 bond proposal that would have provided a new high school campus in the Colony Ridge communities south of Plum Grove. With the current inflation rates, McCanless said that the price to build that same high school campus is now $210 million.
“I have had people ask me, ‘Isn’t there a capacity control like when you go to NRG, Toyota Center or a restaurant?’ That’s not how it works for the Texas Education Agency. The law says that if students move into your school district boundary, we are bound by law to provide them a free, appropriate, public education. That’s why you see all the portable buildings around the District,” McCanless said. “Somebody else asked me, ‘Well, what if you just redraw the lines and let some of the students go to Splendora, Tarkington or Shepherd?’ You don’t just go and redraw school district boundary lines. That’s not how it works.”
Here’s a further breakdown of how the $115 million bond will be used, if approved by voters on Nov. 8:
- The new middle school, estimated to cost around $87 million, will be built next to the new Northside Elementary Campus on FM 2025 on land already owned by the school district. This campus will serve up to 1,600 students in grades 6 through 8, and will be designed similar to Santa Fe Middle School with athletic amenities of track and football fields, support facilities, restrooms, concessions and bleachers to seat 900 people.
- The current Cleveland Middle School, located on Houston Street next to Cleveland High School, will then be repurposed as a ninth and tenth-grade campus. The $1.527 million that will be used from the bond money will fund a required roof replacement at identified problem areas, replace three existing direct exchange units, identify and renovate space for general building storage, restripe the existing parking lot with new paint and provide for miscellaneous sidewalks that will be needed for students to access the next portion of the bond projects – a new Career and Technical Education Center.
- The new CTE building, which comes at an estimated cost of $21.126 million, will be constructed on the old baseball and softball fields that are located between the current high school and middle school campuses. Cleveland ISD currently has 30 different programs in 13 career clusters for students. These include Agriculture, Food and National Resources; Architecture and Construction; Arts, A/V Technology and Communications; Business, Marketing and Finance; Education and Training; Health Science (nursing); Hospitality and Tourism; Human Services; Information Technology; Law and Public Service; Manufacturing; STEM; and Transportation, Distribution and Logistics.
- Improvements to Southside Elementary, estimated to cost $4.244 million, will address mechanical, electrical and plumbing needs with the main campus and portable buildings. LED lighting will be upgraded and installed campus wide. Flooring and ceiling tile replacement is included, as is repairs to the roofing. The campus will be repainted throughout the entirety of the facility. Multiple HVAC units and components will be replaced as well as plumbing fixtures in the pre-kindergarten classrooms. Aluminum canopies that connect the buildings and protect the students and staff during inclement weather will be added. This campus was built in 2002 and has not had any meaningful improvements for two decades.
- Douglass Learning Academy, which helps non-traditional high school students complete their education, will receive $542,829 in funding that will be used for mechanical repairs, lighting upgrades and an intrusion prevention system.
The CTE center will help students with vocational training that will make the transition from high school to the workforce much easier.
“We have provided so many options to the students so they can leave high school and go directly into the workforce,” said McCanless. “We are putting automotive technology back into it. We also have a vet tech program. Cosmetology and culinary arts will remain in the current high school building because they have excellent facilities for that.”
While McCanless cannot sway voters for or against a bond referendum, he is hopeful that voters will turn out on election day and make their choice.
“The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, Oct. 11. Early voting begins on Oct. 24 and the last day of early voting is Nov. 4. The election is Nov. 8. We cannot, as school district employees, tell you how to vote. All we can tell you is to go exercise your right to vote. It’s a great feeling to know you are out there and what you are doing it making a change, one way or another,” he said.
At the Oct. 6 luncheon of the Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Chamber representatives announced that the Chamber’s Board of Directors signed a resolution in support of the bond, and are encouraging the community to vote in favor of the bond referendum.