I take my responsibility as a leader of a school district seriously. I maintain a high sense of awareness of the immediate and long-term impacts of my decisions on current and future student outcomes of Clarksville ISD students. It is an enormous responsibility, yet one I’ve grown to embrace. Years of training for my current role and the experiences gained in my 26 years in this profession have prepared me well.
This is the fourth in a series of editorials in my quest to effectively provide key and relevant information to all interested Clarksville community members. This edition discusses the impact of failed CISD bonds in the past and how those failed bonds have an absolute and direct impact on CISD academic outcomes in 2021.
The Qualified School Construction Bond Loan
Clarksville ISD has one of the most interesting school facility stories of note. The original structure burned down in the summer of 1987, and the new school reopened in the fall of 1989 through funds gained from insurance claims. The current middle school section was part of the high school then serving as its library. Records show the former library now serving as the district’s middle school was built in 1966. District records indicate that a $1.7 million loan was secured in 2011 to convert the high school library and ready it to host all district middle school students. It should be well noted here that there are no other known records indicating the district has made a major investment in its facilities since both Cheatham and the vocational building’s construction since the mid-1960s.
Due to a 2004 study by an organization specializing in assessing aging facilities, it was recommended that the current elementary, then Clarksville Elementary, be immediately put out of service for students due to small class sizes and many problems associated with aging facilities, such as plumbing and roofing issues. The same study also suggested that Cheatham Middle School would reach the end of its life cycle as well in just a few short years. Despite the urgency the 2004 recommendation created, students continued to attend Clarksville Elementary School, remarkably, for seven more years primarily due to the district’s failed bond proposals that would build a new elementary school in 2007 and again in 2009.
The two failed bond proposals created limited options for the CISD trustees, as significant funds were needed to prepare and convert Cheatham Middle School into a school that could service elementary students and transform the then high school library into a middle school that would be able to accept the students scheduled to attend Cheatham Middle school. Pressured by two failed bonds, district officials opted for a $1.7 million loan to support converting Cheatham Middle School into Cheatham Elementary School and the current high school library into Clarksville Middle School. The decision of any school district to secure a loan for such significant renovations or adjustments should be classified as extremely rare. School districts frequently address minor facilities needs through its fund balance, however, preparing multiple campuses for a transfer of students to this degree within a district leads to significant facility adjustments that most districts and their communities would address by passing a bond.
I’m sure the QSCB loan felt like the right thing to do at that time, yet for a district this size it has had enormous and consequential effects on operations since. The 2004 facility report along with two failed bonds, coupled with a rapidly deteriorating elementary school likely created a sense of desperation. Loans are secured, yet always accompanied with a repayment schedule. We are in the midst of the repayment schedule where we are paying off a loan in installments of roughly $180,000 per year. Those payments come from an account that most all other districts use to pay for teachers, utilities and other typical school related expenses. Specific to Clarksville, it is the same $180,000 that equates to us placing four extra teachers in front of our students for support or academic advancement each year. This scenario alone places CISD at an academic disadvantage to all other competing districts as all other districts locally have passed bonds to address major facility needs.
Speaking specifically of facilities, not only has this loan payment impeded the district’s ability to address academic and facility upgrades at the entire district level, it has had a negative impact on the district being able to provide any upgrades on its one just at the high and middle school levels. In case you missed it, we have done little to address the technology and facility shortcomings at both the middle and high schools since the 2011 loan adjustment due to the current repayment plan.
The things that are in need right now at our campuses are the restoration of all the bathrooms, consistency on the campuses in the area of technology as some classes still have chalk boards instead of interactive boards for optimal learning experiences, upgrading libraries that reflect 21st century educational practices and learning opportunities for our students. Moreover, this loan repayment directly impacts the district’s ability to remain relevant and competitive amongst Red River and Lamar counties with regards to teacher salaries.
The $1.7 million QSCB loan was never meant to fully address the growing facility needs of the district, but was rather an urgent decision in reaction to two failed bonds. For sure, the needs 10 years ago were greater than what $1.7 million could address. So many of the needs the district is seeing today remain unaddressed thus reflecting the urgency for this current bond. The district continues to lag behind in providing an authentic 21st century education and without bond intervention, we are on the brink of removing some programs and opportunities for kids that many would consider fundamental.