As the proud superintendent of Clarksville ISD and a 26-year veteran in public school education all in the great state of Texas, veteran educators such as myself often say or think we have likely seen it all. Yet nothing could have prepared us much for the highs and mostly lows of the 2020-21 school year.
I reference the lows because kids belong in school, experiencing all the natural things associated with being in school, yet due largely to the pandemic and an odd winter week in February, this year has been choppy at best.
Late spring ushers in the need to peek into plans for the summer and also make plans for the next school year. One of the areas that continues to make its way to the forefront of our conversations is addressing our facilities. Clarksville ISD joins most districts in this region in trying to address its aging and somewhat outdated facilities.
Clarksville ISD trustees had their first in-depth, thorough conversation regarding addressing the district’s needs with a possible bond during their March board meeting. Our board now has a foundational understanding of our district’s current needs. In Clarksville ISD, there are only so many Maintenance & Operation funds to cover the district’s day-to-day operating expenses. Over 75% to 80% of a typical school district’s M&O budget is assigned to pay staff salaries. The remainder of that budget pays for things like fuel, utilities, supplies, materials, professional development, travel and nominal capital expenses.
Clarksville ISD is now seeing the nominal capital expenditures such as HVAC, school bus and plumbing repairs escalating and thus consuming a greater part of our M&O budget as the district attempts to make the most of aging equipment and facilities.
Clarksville ISD has done a good job maintaining facilities over time with its M&O budget. However, as these facilities have aged, their needs have become too great and too costly to address with M&O dollars alone. The district’s current elementary was ready for student use during years of school segregation in 1965 — an astounding 56 years ago — whereas the high school was built 34 years ago in 1987, with each of these buildings not undergoing any major renovations or adjustments since.
Property taxes continue to be a primary source of funding for Texas school districts, and understanding how they work is important to understanding the overall concept of Texas debt and public-school finance. Almost half of Clarksville ISD’s revenue derives from local citizens through property taxes. Clarksville’s tax rate is comprised of two parts: M&O and Interest & Sinking. It is well past time for Clarksville citizens to respond to today’s deficiencies in the district’s existing facilities, adjusting these facilities to meet the technological demands that now exist, and meet demand for increasing safety and security in our facilities.
Providing this more effective environment for our 21st century learners will indeed cost money, which often requires debt investments — I&S — or, in other words, the passage of a bond. A successful bond has to be approached as a necessary tool to address the many challenges of providing a quality public education to the students in Clarksville. Currently, there is no other way for the district to fund facilities or the “big ticket items” needed to operate.
Think of the funds like this: A school district’s M&O budget is like a household budget. Expenditures include day-to-day maintenance funds, salaries, food services, supplies, etc. Your home budget includes similar expenditures like repairs, gas, groceries, utilities and cleaning supplies.
A school district’s I&S debt helps fund new building construction, renovations, land acquisitions, technology and buses — the big expenses, just like a loan helps you get a new home, land for a home, a new car or major home renovations.
Issuing that debt ultimately is a local decision. Voters are given the opportunity to vote for or against issuing debt to meet their local school district’s needs. When school districts do their homework, involve their local community in the decision-making process and communicate their needs effectively, voters typically understand and support issuing debt to provide their students with appropriate facilities, equipment and technology. The data shows voters are supporting local bond elections across the state.
The Red River County Tax Office’s records can easily be researched as far back as 1981, and there are no known records of a passed bond for Clarksville ISD.
Deferment of a needed and well justified bond is more costly in the long run. In 2007, the district presented its first bond package in decades for Clarksville citizens to vote on. It was $12 million, and it would have provided all K-12 students a brand new school. The package was defeated at the ballot. The district was still in need, so officials regrouped to bring the same bond package back to voters just two years later, but the cost had increased to $14.325 million. Now, in the year 2021, the cost for full replacement of just our elementary school is proposed at $15 million to $17 million. That does not include the other campuses.
For this reason, the Clarksvile ISD board and I likely face an option of creating a bond package that makes use of our current facilities through restoration and renovations instead of building from ground up.
In short, the time has come for the city of Clarksville to rise up and show needed care and support for its children by supporting a carefully development and sensible plan that benefits both the children and the community.