The Sherman Independent School District’s Citizens Advisory Committee made its decision Thursday night, and though it agreed on a minimum $170 million bond package featuring a new high school and districtwide technology upgrades, both of which would be bankrolled by a 20-cent increase in the interest and sinking tax rate, the group ultimately decided to leave the option to push for 21, 22, and 23 cents — and, consequently, more funding — in the hands of the district’s school board.
“What I want our community to know is that this Citizens Advisory Committee has worked tirelessly to study information and to represent what we believe the community wants,” Sherman ISD Superintendent David Hicks said. “We’re at a point where we agree on the needs of the district and they are great. And we know that in order to address those needs it will require a tax increase. Our committee has been thoughtfully deliberating and considering and discussing what our community can afford to do. I’m proud of their work, and I know this community supports our kids.”
The base package includes the construction of a new $157.8 Sherman High School, which would find its home in South Sherman on district-owned property near the intersection of OB Groner Road and FM 1417. The building, as proposed, would be more than 370,000 square feet and a 2,300-student capacity. The package also funds a $12.6 million districtwide technology update by way of expanded digital infrastructure and new devices. The expected total price tag of $170.5 million reflects projected construction and purchasing costs incurred in December 2018.
After roughly two hours of deliberation on everything from construction costs and project prioritization to communication strategies and the pros and cons of maxing out the I&S tax rate at 23 cents, the 32 committee members left were asked to vote on which bond package and included tax increment option they both liked and supported and felt the community would support, too. The members voted as follows:
— On a 20 cents per $100 valuation I&S tax rate increase, funding an approximately $170 million bond package, 30 members said “yes,” and two members said “no.”
— On a 21-cent I&S tax rate increase, funding an approximately $176 million bond package, 25 members said “yes,” and seven members said “no.”
— On a 22-cent I&S tax rate increase, funding an approximately $182 million bond package, 23 members said “yes,” and nine members said “no.”
— On a 23-cent I&S tax rate increase, funding an approximately $187 million bond package, 16 members said “yes,” and 16 members said “no.”
The additional funds generated by each 1 cent increase would be used for possible renovations and modernization of the existing Sherman High School and or Piner Middle School.
Citizens Advisory Committee co-chair Brad Douglass said the group’s consensus on the 21-cent and 22-cent iterations of the bond package would meet the district’s most pressing needs, but wouldn’t solve all the district problems which largely stem from a growing student population and aging facilities.
“It is a compromise,” Douglass said. “We are getting the high school, we’re getting the technology and we’re getting some of the renovations we need, but not all that we need. So, it is a compromise, but that’s part of what we do as a community. We are representing what we believe the interests of our citizens are.”
The Citizens Advisory Committee, staffed by dozens of district educators, elected officials, business leaders and Sherman residents, was originally assembled in the fall of 2016. Sherman ISD tasked the group with examining the district’s enrollment, demographics, finances and facilities before asking members to develop a bond package that would position the district well for growth and change over the next 20 to 30 years. What the group came up with was a $308 million package which included the new high school and tech updates, but also the building of two new elementary schools, athletic facility updates and more.
The committee presented its package to the school board in February and, though it was unanimously approved by the trustees and a May election was called, the package failed by less than 150 votes when it came time for the public to decide. In the wake of the vote, Sherman ISD brought new members on board — opponents of the first bond among them — and the committee returned to the drawing table where it ultimately agreed that the new high school and technology updates were the minimum must-haves for the district.
The Sherman ISD board of trustees is set to learn of the committee’s proposals from Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Tyson Bennett at a special called meeting on Monday and a hear a formal presentation from the Citizens Advisory Committee at the board’s regular meeting on Aug. 21 — the final date on which a November bond election can be called.
Douglass said if the board decides to call an election, the committee will work to provide accurate and factual information to the public, ahead of the vote.
“What we’d do is get all the information out to the citizens, whether it’s going out to different civic groups, having town hall meetings — similar to what we did last time, but frankly, we need to be better and more effective in our communication,” he said.
For additional information on the district, the work of the Citizens Advisory Committee and a summary of each of the group’s meetings, visit the Sherman ISD website.