Kyle Heath

Members of the Cleburne Economic Development Foundation, King’s Daughters Hearts of Gold Circle, Tuesday Forum and other community members enjoyed a Thursday brunch courtesy of Cleburne High School culinary students while hearing information about Cleburne ISD’s proposed bond referendum.

What used to be the high school’s library is an art deco restaurant that will soon open to the public, CISD Superintendent Kyle Heath said.

“Culinary arts was previously in a small area for career technology education and was in a converted garage,” Heath said. “Now, because of community support for our 2016 bond we have five kitchens and this restaurant.”

A restaurant that has already hosted several dinners open to the public and one that attendee Amber Witte labeled good as any Fort Worth or Dallas restaurant.

The 2016 bond, Heath said, significantly improved CTE programs and CISD’s overall quality of education. With the new proposed bond, district officials said they hope to build on those improvements while also addressing facility capacity issues, equitable education across the district and other issues.

Bond facts and voting

The current bond proposal totals $90,730,934 and includes three propositions on the ballot, which must be voted on separately. 

Proposition A includes renovation and expansion of Wheat Middle School and Smith Intermediate School as well renovation of the Don Smith Performing Arts Center and district wide technology infrastructure and security upgrades.

Proposition B includes CHS athletic improvements and increased parking and a new tennis center at Wheat Middle School.

Proposition C includes district wide technology devices including teacher laptops and other equipment.

Additional information on the bond is available at c-isd.com/bond-2021.

Early voting began Monday and runs through April 27. All early voting will take place at the Cleburne Conference Center, 1501 W. Henderson St. Early voting hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 26-27.

Election Day is May 1 with voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On that day, voters in precincts 6 and 18 vote at CISD Administrative Building, 505 N. Ridgeway Drive, Suite 100. 

Voters in precincts 14, 15, 17 and 33 vote at Cooke Elementary School, 902 Phillips St.

Voters in precincts 9, 20, 21, 22, 24, 27, 28 and 36 vote at the Booker T. Washington Recreation Center, 100 Mansfield Road.

Voters in precincts 16, 19 and 23 vote at Gerard Elementary School, 1212 S. Hyde Park Blvd.

A Facebook Live event, held last week to discuss the bond, is also available on the district’s Facebook page.

No tax rate increase

Voter approval of the bond, Heath said, will not increase the district’s property tax rate. The current rate of $1,5147 will not increase should voters approve the 2021 bond, Heath reiterated.

CISD Assistant Superintendent Chris Jackson explained that the Interest and Sinking, or I&S, rate — the tax rate is made up of I&S and maintenance and operation, or M&O, rates — would remain at its current rate of 46 cents per $100 of property valuation should the bond pass. 

“That rate cannot go over 50 cents by state law,” Jackson said.

Heath echoed Jackson’s statement.

“Right now our I&S rate is 46 cents,” Heath said. “If all three propositions pass it will stay at 46 cents. We have 20 years of debt in our I&S service right now. 

“If all three of these proposals pass that will stay at 46 cents and we will have 25 years of debt service. So it will add five years to our existing debt service.

“One each ballot will be the term, which is required by law, that says, ‘This is a tax increase on property.’ But, as I just said, the I&S rate will stay the same.

“Now, let’s say it will even go down. Let’s say we’re going to have a bond and reduce the rate to 45 cents. It would still say this is a property tax increase on the ballot. The reason why is that we’re extending the debt.”

The district, Heath added, has no control over valuation of property, rather they simply control the tax rate. Heath added that the district’s M&O rate has decreased in recent years while the I&S rate has remained the same.

Difference maker

Jackson opened by commending CHS’s 97.1 percent graduation rate, which is five points above the state average and the district’s superior financial rating and low teacher turnover rate of 12.7 percent.

“That’s lower than state average,” Jackson said. “In some districts it’s not uncommon to have a 30 percent to 40 percent annual turnover rate.”

Heath joked that, during a recent root canal, he encountered a student who went through the CTE dental program at CHS. That student, Heath said, plans to continue on and eventually become a dentist.

“It’s phenomenal that kids in our high school are getting this real-world experience,” Heath said. “What’s so amazing is that our kids have exposure to so many different career paths. About 70 percent don’t plan to go to college. So one of the things we need to encourage of what’s out there, that it’s not just entry-level jobs but jobs kids can take and build careers from and advance.

“Regardless of those who go to college or don’t there’s a pathway and we want every student to be a participant. Our goal at CISD is not only that every child is important but also that every child brings talent to the table. We want to produce successful citizens who want to contribute, rejoin their community and give back.”

Jackson agreed saying it’s important to keep students engaged and on the path to graduation whether they plan to attend college or earn CTE certification.

The 2016 bond, Heath and Jackson said, made significant investment into CISD’s CTE programs and substantially increased options and opportunities for students.

“It truly transformed this district and put Cleburne on the map,” CTE Director Mark McClure said. “We’ve had people from all over the U.S. come to tour our facilities. This is also not just for students who aren’t planning to go to college. It’s for every single CHS student. In fact, 98 percent of students in this high school are involved in some CTE coursework.”

With 13 career clusters and 27 programs of study options are many, McClure said.

“Every program ends in certification,” McClure said. 

The proposed 2021 bond not only builds on the improvements of the 2016 bond, Jackson said, but also addresses issues of capacity, equitable opportunity and other issues.

Ongoing growth in Cleburne translates to growth in CISD, Jackson said.

Student population is expected to grow 5.5 percent next year and, for the first time in CISD history, surpass the 7,000 mark. Growth is expected to range 2 percent to 3 percent over the next decade and increase student population to more than 9,000 by 2030.

For those and other reasons increased capacity, both in facilities and parking, is crucial, Jackson said.

Another important change that will not be possible should the current bond proposal fail to pass involves a new district alignment. 

Previous to 2007, there was one intermediate, one middle and one high school.

“That was the flow,” Jackson said. “All our students came together across the district at the fifth grade level and stayed as a cohort group through high school.”

Moving to a two middle school dynamic in 2007 changed that dynamic to where students didn’t come together as one group until high school.

State data, Jackson said, showed that state assessment scores were stronger before the split to two middle schools. For those and other reasons, plans call for reconfiguring Smith into an intermediate school for fifth and sixth graders thereby returning to the model of students going to school together from fifth grade on.

Doing so, Heath and Jackson added, will also increase capacity at the district’s elementary schools, which has already been increased by the addition of full-day pre-k classes. 

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