Proposed bond package lets Huntsville ISD upgrade all campuses, realign grades

Joseph Brown | The ItemThe abandoned auditorium at Mance Park Middle School has set vacant for nearly eight years after it was condemned by the city. Under a possible bond referendum, district leaders are looking to demolish the aging structure and replace it with new cafeteria with a full stage. A new auditorium will then be build on the Huntsville High School campus. 

It has been 22 years since voters at Huntsville independent School District have supported a bond referendum. 

With one of the lowest tax rates in the surrounding area, the school district could soon be asking voters for a $92 million construction bond that will allow campuses to undergo a grade realignment. A $30-35 million athletics complex has also been proposed by school administrators, but not yet added to the district’s long-range master plan.

If added to the ballot in May or November 2021, the construction bonds will be split into two or three separate propositions.

At the core of the district’s long range plan and $92 million construction project is a grade realignment. Four elementary schools will house pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, while Mance Park Middle School will house sixth through eighth grade. Huntsville High School will continue to educate ninth through 12th grade.

“The major advantages of this model are clear, and it is no coincidence that an overwhelming majority of the most successful school districts in the US use this model,” HISD Superintendent Dr. Scott Sheppard said. “It is better for students educationally, developmentally and behaviorally — offering better vertical alignment of instruction from grade to grade, fewer transitions for kids and parents between schools and longer opportunities for family relationships to develop with a school's administration and staff.”

In its current configuration, students at Huntsville ISD can attend up to five separate campuses throughout their entire schooling career. The grade realignment would shrink that to three.

PROJECTS UNDER CONSIDERATION

District enrollment, which is around 6,000, has grown by hundreds of kids over the last 10 years and is expected to expand at a higher rate for the next decade. A large portion of the bond package — classroom additions at four campuses — will help deal with that growth.

The campus receiving the largest facelift will be Mance Park Middle School, as officials plan to convert the existing support and learning center wing into 16 additional classrooms. The plan also calls for converting the existing cafeteria and kitchen into a band suite, along with a new kitchen, cafeteria and stage and renovations to the existing gymnasium.

The existing auditorium at Mance Park, which was condemned nearly eight years ago, will be demolished and replaced with a new auditorium at the high school.

Classrooms at Huntsville Intermediate School will be renovated, and the campus will be converted to Scott Johnson Elementary School. The existing Scott Johnson will be converted into a community center, while the existing Gibb’s Pre-K Center will be converted into a new support and learning center.

The plan also includes the construction of a new 800-seat baseball field and a 500-seat softball field on the HISD campus.

‘STRENGTHENING OUR ACADEMIC CORE’

Under its current budget, Huntsville ISD has one of the lowest tax rates in the region. The rate includes 96.28 cents per $1,000 property valuation for maintenance and operations and 7.5 cents for debt service.

With a debt service rate far below the state average of 22 cents, district officials say that they are forced to utilize maintenance and operations dollars for major purchases such as buses, renovations, technology and expensive repairs. That means less money for educators.

According to Sheppard, most districts spend 85 percent of their maintenance and operations budget on people in the form of salaries and benefits. However, Huntsville spends approximately 70 percent.

“This plan helps improve core academic instruction, which is the financial benefit of having an appropriate amount of debt for the right purpose,” he noted. “Instead of spending huge amounts of money on maintaining aging infrastructure, we can utilize those funds to strengthen our academic core.”

The $92 million project would add a maximum of six cents per $1,000 — equating to an increase of $87.68 per year for the average property in the HISD district. A separate referendum for an athletics complex could add anywhere from four to five additional cents per $1,000.

NEXT STEPS

The Huntsville ISD Board of Trustees must call for an election prior to Feb. 12 to bring the ballot measures before voters in the May 1, 2021 election. The deadline to file for the Nov. 2, 2021 election is Aug. 16.  

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