With Sherman residents soon to vote on a $308 million bond package aimed at overhauling the Sherman Independent School District’s facilities, supporters and opponents of the plan are both making their positions known to the community.
Under the bond package, the district would commence updates in three phases. The first would cost $160 million — the district’s current borrowing capacity — and include a brand new high school with a 2,100 student capacity and technology upgrades for every SISD campus. The second phase would allow the existing Sherman High School to be converted into a large middle school for 1,000 students and for two new elementary schools to be built for $68 million. The third and final phase would round out the remaining funds and bankroll either a brand new football stadium or a renovation of the existing Bearcat Stadium for $28 million and bring about improved fine arts facilities.
Those in favor of the bond say it’s a large, but much-needed, investment that will update the district’s aging and cramped buildings, while those against it say the district is asking taxpayers to fund a collection of projects that are already far too expensive and will end up costing the community even more.
“I fully expected there to be a healthy discussion on this and there needs to be a dialogue on what we’re doing with the taxpayers money,” Brad Douglass, chairman of the Back the Bond Committee, said.
Douglass said he and many other proponents support the bond because they see it as a means to solve the district’s most pressing issue — overcrowding. One of those bond proponents is Chassidie Dunlap. The Neblett Elementary School third grade teacher said district policy bars her from actively supporting the bond when she is in the classroom and on campus — a rule she said she and other district staff strictly follow. But as she stood in the front door of her home Friday, Dunalp said she supports the bond because it will fund bigger and better facilities.
“Right now, we need more seats,” Dunlap said. “We need enough room for us to go grow as a district. We have grown every year since we last passed a bond.”
Enrollment information provided by Sherman ISD indicates that the district has seen a 15 percent increase in the number of elementary students in the last 10 years. The district also points to growing pains at Sherman High School where more than 1,800 students pack the halls of a campus that was originally intended to hold only 1,400 students.
“The beauty of this is that if the the student population changes in any way, it’s a flexible enough system that they can pivot,” Douglass said. “It’s flexible in the future but it addresses all of our needs today.”
Critics of the bond said they’ve heard that before and it’s an empty promise. Don Bailey, a Sherman-area attorney and supplier of the blue and green colored yard signs that read, “Say no to 308 Million on May 6th,” said Sherman ISD has used the same message in the past to garner votes. He recalled the district touting Sherman High School’s ability to grow and serve more students in the future as a selling point of bonds that were proposed between 1966 and 1968. He said the district then failed to keep its word again following the 2005 bond election.
“The last bond election they told us that the property at Dillingham (Intermediate School), would be sold to offset the prices of the new Dillingham,” Bailey said. “Well, what they did is they tore down the old Dillingham. They spent, what is reported to me, $12 million on a new administration building to put on the old Dillingham property. They never sold it as they promised us and then gave away the old admin building for free. Now that is up for sale to a commercial buyer. They’re just not using good financial sense.”
Bailey said his opposition to the bond also stems from what he sees as a less-than-thorough assessment of the district’s repayment plan. He said he believes the final price tag of the bond will far exceed $308 million with interest tacked on and thought it was unwise for the district to request that taxpayers endure a tax hike that takes rates right up to the state cap.
“I don’t think raising taxes to the highest level allowed by law is an answer to a problem that they haven’t looked at very closely,” Bailey said
If passed, the bond will raise taxes by 23 cents per every $100 of taxable property value. For the average Sherman homeowner, whose house is worth $88,000, that means an additional $16 in taxes each month or $202 each year.
Fellow bond critic and lawyer Barry Rubarts said that increase is bad for business. Rubarts said his past experience as a tax assessor and continued work in facilitating property tax appeals has convinced him that an increase in taxes will turn off businesses looking to set up shop in Sherman.
“I believe that lower taxes expand the economy,” Rubarts said. “That’s kind of a Reagan issue, but I have found that to be true based upon my dealings with businesses — that they look for lower taxes and that’s what expands the economy.”
Rubarts also said that he, other bond critics and the public in general have not been provided with enough detailed information as to where each dollar of the bond will go. To that point, Douglass said information regarding the bond and how the district reached the $308 million price tag is all posted on the Sherman ISD website.
“We want this to be as transparent as we can, because we are asking people to make a big decision here,” Douglass said. “They need to be comfortable with it.”
Early voting on the bond election will be held from April 24-29 and May 1-2. Election day is May 6.