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$29.9 million bond needed because of growth, Tatum ISD panel says

By Christina Lane
Jan. 10, 2012 at 11 p.m.

TATUM - The Tatum ISD bond committee has recommended the district's trustees call a $29.9 million May bond election at their February board meeting, Superintendent Dee Hartt said Tuesday.

The crux of the bond package is an $18.3 million three-grade elementary school. The bond committee recommended the new school to meet growth needs at Tatum Primary School and Tatum Elementary School. The district owns 23 acres on Texas 149 between Lil Eagles Preschool & Daycare and the Tatum city limits where the campus would be built.

Tatum ISD's enrollment has grown 4.5 percent in the past five years with Tatum Elementary School experiencing a 47 percent student enrollment increase since 2005-06, according to district records. As student enrollment has increased, capacity at the primary, elementary and high schools has been eclipsed or will be eclipsed with continued enrollment.

"We're growing at such a rate that we have no more elbow room," said Tatum Elementary School Principal Jennifer Malone.

Since 2000, Tatum has held five successful bond elections totaling $42 million. Of that, $34 million was paid without a tax rate increase, Hartt said. The $8 million 2004 bond increased the tax rate by $0.10. The bonds have passed at a rate of 84 percent to 16 percent, Hartt said.

Because Tatum ISD is considered "property wealthy" by the state, it is subject to making recapture payments to the state. Bond indebtedness, however, is not subject to Texas Education Agency recapture under the state's share-the-wealth funding plan. Therefore, if the district calls bond elections, it is able to keep money locally.

"Tatum ISD has avoided $52 million in recapture payments during the lifetime of these bonds," Hartt said.

The school board appointed the 2012 bond committee because the 2008 bond will be paid off next school year, enrollment projections will place multiple campuses at capacity and it allows the district to maximize state funding and avoid property wealthy recapture payments, Hartt said.

Tatum Elementary School houses about 350 fourth- through sixth-graders. Malone said the school has no rooms available for more classes, except for a gifted and talented classroom that it could take away. However, after that, school space will be maxed out, she said.

With more than 500 students, Tatum Primary School also is at its capacity. That campus houses prekindergarten through third grades. The bond package calls for a third through fifth grade elementary school, removing one grade level from the primary school to give it more room. Sixth grade would be housed at Tatum Middle School, which shares some facilities such as its cafeteria with Tatum Elementary School.

The bond package proposed by the committee includes cafeteria upgrades and career and technology education upgrades at the middle school. The district is looking to expand its career and technology course offerings from the high school down to the younger grades, said Middle School Principal Drenon Fite. The campus offers shop and has a computer graphics program.

"With the upgrades, we will be able to offer more classes and programs," he said.

As for the cafeteria, Fite said the upgrades will include expanding the cafeteria to make it bigger and updating the equipment.

"Right now the main issue is overcrowding," he said. The elementary and middle schools have to coordinate with each other when their respective students can go to lunch. The room is also used for community meetings, and Fite said it will allow for more room for the public.

Other items included in the proposed bond package include classrooms, band hall and ag complex additions, as well as career technology upgrades at the high school; a driveway extension and parking spaces at the primary school; more parking at the community park; as well as technology and transportation upgrades.

Because of a pending lawsuit that Luminant-Martin Lake has filed against the Rusk County Appraisal District protesting its 2011 property value, the district calculated its tax rate at the certified values and the value rendered by Luminant, Hartt said.

Financed for 20 years, the $29.9 million would increase the $1.04 tax rate by 10.31 cents per $100 valuation using the appraisal district's certified values. That would be an increase of about $60 per year on the average tax bill. Using the Luminant values, the tax rate would increase by 18.44 cents per $100 valuation, or about $108 per year on the average tax bill.

"Once the Martin Lake dispute is settled, the tax rate increase will fall somewhere between these numbers, and is estimated to be closer to the certified values," Hartt said.

"In reviewing school district tax rates from a four-county area, Tatum ISD's tax rate is the lowest of all districts with interest and sinking (debt) levies and would remain in the middle even using the undisputed values."

The school board is expected to officially call the bond election at its February board meeting. Early voting begins April 30 and ends on May 8, Hartt said. Election day is May 12.



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