A group of North Lamar ISD community members has its work cut out if the district expects to pass a possible $50 million bond election in May.

If the election was today, it would go down 51% to 40% in defeat, according to results of a survey of 401 district households taken Dec.15-21 by Baselice & Associates, Inc , a national research firm.

With an education campaign throughout the district, however, and with the bond question divided into several proposals, as required by state law, the district stands a good chance of gaining voter approval for work on aging facilities and the building of a new elementary school to take the place of Higgins Elementary and Bailey Intermediate, which would be demolished.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 4.9% plus or minus, indicates voters also would approve up to $3.6 million in new buses, $363,000 in technology improvements and possibly $3.9 million for fine arts facility improvements. However, gaining voter approval for $5.5 million for athletic facilities will be harder to accomplish.

Superintendent Kelli Stewart said the district’s Community Advisory Committee will now take information gleaned from the survey to put together a bond proposal for a possible May 1 election.

“North Lamar ISD appreciated the voters in our district that took the time to complete the comprehensive community survey,” Stewart said. “Community input is a crucial part in the decision-making process.”

Stewart said the committee will begin to prioritize projects into propositions at an upcoming meeting and decide which projects it believes need to be brought before the school board.

“The defined process is to let the committee do the work and prepare their recommendation for the board,” Stewart said. “Once the board receives the recommendation, trustees can choose to accept the recommendation or amend it.”

By video conference and using a video presentation, consultant Matt Gamble, reviewed survey results in detail, revealing information about voter ages, past election turnout, impressions about district leadership, enrollment, condition of buildings and more.

“Survey questions were designed to measure both current levels of support as well as levels of support after detailed information was shared about different elements in each possible bond proposal,” Gamble said. “Many times you will have people change their opinions as they learn more information.”

Gamble stressed the importance of an information campaign conducted after a bond election is called and before voters go to the polls as he emphasized that a campaign can’t urge people to vote for the proposal but can provide information about such things as the condition of facilities, some of which are more than 35 years old and require constant repair.

“Over 50% of those surveyed rated building conditions as either fair or poor, which tells us there’s a lot of feelings out there that there could be some improvements to school buildings,” Gamble said.

Factual statements such as the fact that interest rates are at an all-time low while construction costs continue to increase with inflation can be shared, he said. Also the fact that the district has no debt, has the lowest tax rate in Lamar County but has not made a significant investment in academic facilities since 1995 while other districts have utilized bonds to make school improvements can be shared.

Survey results indicate voters are more concerned about where and why money is going to be spent than with the total amount of the bond proposal.

“We see there is not a lot of price sensitivity from $40 million to $50 million to $60 million,” Gamble said. “So the committee, and you as a board, can really make decisions based on what are the most critical needs of the district. It’s not as much about the dollar amount as it is about what the district plans to do with the money.”

In concluding remarks, Gamble said information presented in the survey had expected results, just like he predicts a well-run information campaign will have prior to May 1.

“So after reading all this and responding to it, we see that respondents went from 40% in support of bonds for $50 million to 47%, and the opposition decreased from 51% to 46%,” Gamble said. “Other proposals increased in support as well.”

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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