San Marcos CISD discusses three options for potential 2017 bond

San Marcos CISD hosted a meeting Tuesday to discuss the district's potential 2017 bond.

San Marcos CISD hosted a meeting Tuesday to discuss the district's potential 2017 bond.

San Marcos CISD hosted a meeting Tuesday to discuss three options for the district’s potential 2017 bond that would address current and anticipated capacity issues facing campuses.

The district will host another meeting Jan. 17, during which potential project costs will be discussed.

Members of a bond committee created to help formulate a potential bond package met in small groups at the meeting to discuss pros and cons of each construction package.

"Everybody has their thing that they focus on, but I think what I can gather from all of [the committee members] is they all are about doing something about the capacity and sticking with the capacity and addressing the academics," Superintendent Michael Cardona said.

Much of the discussion at the meeting focused on a proposal included in one of the three options to convert Mendez Elementary School to include kindergarten-eighth grade. The K-8 school could potentially be modeled after a magnet school, offering specialized programs such as dual-language or fine arts instruction. Admission to the school could be based on a lottery system. Exact details of how the school would operate or what courses would be offered there have yet to be determined.

Concerns were raised by committee members as to how the K-8 school would affect parity and equity within the district. Committee members also raised questions about how converting Mendez Elementary School, which serves an area of San Marcos east of I-35, including the Blanco Gardens neighborhood, to a magnet school would affect the neighborhoods in that area.

Others saw it as a positive, innovative step for the district to take.

Cardona cited research showing K-8 schools can provide statistically significant benefits to students.

Angela Whitaker-Williams, associate principal with Perkins and Will, the architecture firm assisting the district in identifying needs to be addressed by a bond, said the district is working to identify growth trends within the district in order to meet anticipated future demand for schools.

A growth report by Templeton Demographics, which was presented to the bond committee in late 2016, indicates enrollment could increase from about 8,100 students in 2016-17 to about 11,200 students in 2026-27. Under a more modest growth projection district enrollment would reach 10,225 students by 2026-27.

The district is currently dealing with overcrowding at elementary campuses, and has applied to the Texas Education Agency for waivers allowing it to exceed the state cap on classroom sizes in K-4 classes.

“It’s hard to meet academic needs when you’re overcrowded,” Whitaker-Williams said. “There’s not enough room to pull out the kid who can’t make it when you’re cramming 25 kids into a classroom and doing waivers for every classroom.”

Each of the three options discussed Tuesday include construction of at least one new elementary school to accommodate current and anticipated student capacity needs. Other items included in the proposals include an expansion of San Marcos High School's capacity from 2,400 students to 2,700 students as well as upgrades, renovations and maintenance at some middle school campuses.

“This bond is going to grow minds and grow capacity,” Whitaker-Williams said.

The earliest that a new elementary school could be built would be in time for the 2019-20 school year, assuming the 2017 bond is approved by voters. Some committee members were concerned about how the district will deal with capacity issues until the new school can be opened to students.

Cardona said to address existing capacity issues in the short term, the SMCISD administration is considering changes to the district’s attendance zones and transfer policy, which allows students to attend schools outside their attendance zone in certain situations.

SMCISD does not plan to change the district tax rate, which is $1.4141 per $100 of property valuation, if the bond is passed.

Former SMCISD trustee John Crowley is a member of the bond committee, and he cautioned the district against saying the proposal will not increase taxes for taxpayers in the district. Crowley compared the potential issuance of $110 million-$120 million in bonds to extending a 15-year mortgage on a home to 30 years.

Additionally, as property values increase, residents’ overall tax bills—a product of the tax rate and property values—will likely continue to increase as well.