For the fourth time, the Waelder Independent School District went to voters asking for approval of a pair of bond propositions and were turned down in complete but unofficial returns on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
WISD was seeking passage of just under $7 million in bonds — more than $3.3 million less than the district sought in its last failed attempt in May.
“We are disappointed of course in the bond election results,” Superintendent Ron Lilie said. “Given that Texas has a large budget surplus and is implementing one of the largest property tax reductions in recent history, we had hoped for a different outcome, especially since even with the bond passing most taxpayers would end up paying considerably less than last year. One can only guess at the motivation for that, although given the voter turnout, complacency did play a part in it. We did not do a good job in getting people to the polls.”
Proposition A, which would have called for the issuance of $5.826 million, failed by a vote of 220-135. The measure had four main components:
• Remodeling the existing old gym, which cannot be used as a gym and is currently being used as storage, into a cafetorium that would seat all students in two lunch periods, provide a stage for the district for fine arts and theatre arts, and an auditorium for school and community functions.
• Renovations and improvements to the Middle School that includes replacement of 17-year-old carpet, replacing leaking windows, providing a monitored fire alarm system, and other renovations and improvements.
• Classrooms for fifth and sixth grade students that would provide permanent classrooms, eliminate portable buildings, and save the district the annual cost of renting portable buildings, a savings of $76,222 per year.
• High school upgrades that include replacing 13-year-old carpet, provide an entrance safety vestibule, more efficient lighting, and interior and exterior painting, and other building improvements.
Proposition B, for $1.1 million, was turned down by a margin of 224-129. It called for renovating the open pavilion into a climate-controlled gymnasium that will serve as many as 14 different student groups that utilize gym facilities in the district. Total cost of the project is $2.1 million, and the district would have used current tax maintenance notes to pay $1 million toward the project.
The results are unofficial until they are canvassed by the Board of Trustees. That must happen no earlier than the third day after the election and no later than the 11th day after the polls closed.
If both measures had been approved, the total school tax rate was estimated to increase by approximately 5.42 cents from a fiscal 2023 proposed rate of 92.89 cents per $100 valuation to a fiscal year 2024 rate of 98.31 cents. While the debt service rate is expected to increase from 7.43 cents to 20.5 cents, the maintenance and operations rate is expected to drop from 85.46 cents to 77.81 cents.
“As far as moving forward, we will evaluate options,” Lilie said. “Schools are taxpayer funded. Waelder ISD does a good job of managing public funds, as indicated by our Superior Achievement rating with the state of Texas. Everything that a school has to spend to operate or maintain facilities will come from the taxpayers, either directly through a bond, or through funds provided by the state.
“The bond's failure does not change the fact that we have a cafeteria that is too small with leaking windows, with many students eating outside. It does not change the fact that we have a middle school that has mold issues, asbestos, and leaking windows that need to be replaced. It also does not change the fact that we need more classrooms. We will be meeting soon to determine a way forward, and we will consider all options.”
In May 2023, Waelder ISD tried to get voters to approve a $10.3 million bond package that would have allowed the district $7.1 million to make improvements to district facilities — including for safety and security — as well as $3.2 million to refund principal and/or interest on previously issued maintenance tax notes.
However, voters in May rejected Proposition A, the one for $7.1 million, by a 185-155 margin, while shooting down Proposition B, the one for $3.2 million, by a vote of 187-149.
Waelder ISD has held bond measure proposals in May 2022, November 2022 and May 2023 without success on any of them. Only 263 people voted on the measure in May 2022, which failed by a 165-98 margin, while 554 voters cast ballots in a November 2022 election that saw Prop A fall by a 289-261 margin and Prop B by a 315-239 tally.