TIOGA — In the midst of developing plans for a new high school campus, there’s a voice in Tioga saying: "If you build, they will come." That voice resonating throughout the town is the board of trustees and district superintendent, who are hoping to create a better education system for the growing community.

TIOGA — In the midst of developing plans for a new high school campus, there’s a voice in Tioga saying: "If you build, they will come." That voice resonating throughout the town is the board of trustees and district superintendent, who are hoping to create a better education system for the growing community.


"The only way the kids of this community are going to better themselves is through more education and religion," Tioga Independent School District Superintendent Charles Holloway said after the school board meeting Monday night. "The churches are here, but we have to do our part."


The district has been working on the purchase of 92 acres of land, located on the southeast corner of McKnight Road and Airport Road. It is going to cost the district approximately $1.1 million to purchase the land to build a high school campus.


The district currently has only one campus, which houses pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. This spring, Tioga ISD will have its first graduating class since 1961. The Texas Education Agency lists 385 students were enrolled at the school in the 2014-2015 school year.


Within the last few years, Holloway said the district has been adding between 80 and 100 students each year. Because the current campus is reaching its maximum capacity, he said a new high school campus is a priority to provide students quality instruction.


"We knew when we saw the growth coming, we were going to have to do something," Holloway said in an interview earlier this month. "We knew that we were going to need to have more space because some of the specialty programs that you offer in high school couldn’t be offered in the facilities that we have now."


Preliminary drawings from VLK Architects of Fort Worth show the campus to be approximately 62,000 square feet with a stadium and track. As for the cost of the high school campus, Holloway said the Texas Attorney General’s Office told the district the project cannot exceed $16 million.


Financial plans


The Tioga ISD Public Facility Corporation is a non-profit, separate from the school district, that was created by the school district in December to assist with financing the new high school. The corporation will finance the purchase of the land and the construction projects through the issuance of lease revenue bonds, giving the school district the ability to establish a lease-purchase agreement.


"It would have to be paid for by money we already collect," Holloway said in an interview last week. "If you do a lease-purchase agreement, you can pay for it out of your maintenance and operating (M&O) monies and it would not increase the tax rate."


The district would also like to call a Tax Ratification Election in the future to generate more revenue from the state, Holloway said. By shifting pennies from the M&O into the interest and sinking tax rate, he said the district would be able to keep the tax rate the same while generating more money to pay for district needs.


"Our values are increasing quite a bit every year, but they’re not at a point right now that a bond is an option and that’s why we’re taking this particular avenue to get it done," Holloway said earlier this month.


The corporation would be responsible for accepting annual payments from the district and a board member would make payments to the bondholders on behalf of the corporation. During the lease-purchase agreement, the corporation would also hold the title to the land and facility. At the end of the payment period, the title to the land and facility would be transferred back to the district.


"The risk solely relies on the person who bought the bonds, because they now own the asset," Board President Rick Staples said after Monday’s board meeting.


According to the Texas Legislature, school districts are able to use lease-purchase agreements to gain some flexibility in funding facilities. All lease-purchase agreements and the funding sources to pay for the facilities are reviewed for approval by the Texas Attorney General.


Because the corporation is responsible for the building and financing of the project, Holloway said there is no risk to the school district. If anything happened throughout the process, he said it would fall on the corporation.


Other schools districts such as the Houston Independent School District have formed a public facilities corporation within the last two years. Any time a district is going to do a lease-purchase agreement, TEA information specialist Lauren Callahan said the district would form a public facilities corporation to do so.


Community opposition


Some residents were not pleased when they learned about the lease-purchase agreement and created a petition in hopes to get their voice hear. With a validated petition against the district’s lease-purchase contract, residents have put the brakes on the high school campus project and the city may be seeing an election down the road.


"Our concern is that the district is trying to put this thing through without a vote," Tioga resident Harlon Baker said in an interview earlier this month. "We presented the petition to the board and they haven’t acted on it but they’ll have to call an election to get a yes or no vote."


The petition was created in order to inform people in the district, Baker said. Because the district’s public notice was published in the Whitesboro News Record and the majority of residents do not subscribe to it, he said he believes the district was trying to "keep the decision quiet."


After the board meeting Monday night, Staples and board member Ricky Kemp explained why the school district decided to remain quiet about the purchase of the land.


One reason the district was not vocal about the land purchase is because the district did not want another party to become interested in the property, Kemp said. The company also wanted to protect their employees who may have thought their jobs were not secure if they had learned about the deal through the community, Staples said.


When asked about the privileges of the school board, Callahan said a board has the authority to make purchases for the district without consulting the voters. However, the TEA information specialist said the district is allowed to make purchases, including property, as long as they have the money to do so.


"What happens if you can’t pay the lease? Because if we can’t pay for it, the district will have to raise taxes considerably to pay for it," Baker said. "People say we don’t care about the kids but we do care very much about the kids and that’s why we’re trying to be careful about the process because we don’t want the district to get into too much debt."


Douglas Hestand was the citizen who created the petition and by collecting at least 45 signatures, he said the petition met the required five percent of registered voters in the district.


"I don’t like lease purchase at all and I don’t think it’s good for the school because I personally don’t think Tioga ISD can afford it," Hestand said. "We need to vote on it and it’s easier to take if people vote for it. I felt like they were being too secretive and people were not paying attention to it."


When asked about an election earlier this month, Holloway said the district is trying to work through the some legal ramifications, hoping to have an answer within 30 days. On Monday, he said the earliest the district could have an election would be September because there are restrictions on when a city can hold an election.


District optimism


"With the track record that we have, it is very offensive to me as a board member about what is being said in the scuttle that’s going around the community about what we’ve done behind closed doors," board member Shawn Nesmith said after the board meeting Monday night. "We have done what the citizens of this community have asked us to do and that is educate their kids in the community."


Using Lovejoy Independent School District as an example, Holloway said the property values were being negatively impacted by bigger cities like Allen and McKinney. However once Lovejoy ISD developed its district, he said it started getting more families and homes.


"We’re talking about values going up because people move in here and some of this land gets developed," Nesmith said. "Some of the people who have owned this land for years and decades can sell their land to developers and a developer can build a few houses."


In the best case scenario, Kemp said the district would build the high school campus and more development would come to the area. As a result, the property values would go up and give the district more money to pay off the lease-purchase agreement.


Because of the leadership of Holloway, board members said the district was able to build its early childhood development center, which provided a sufficient childcare solution for the community. In addition, the district also offers students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree before graduation with its Early College High School designation.


"There are going to be naysayers in whatever you do in this business," Holloway said Monday night. "We’re dealing with peoples’ two most precious assets — their children and their wallet."


Herald Democrat report Alex Maxwell also contributed to this article.