Westwood resident Hattie Kitchens skipped the May election for a proposed $39-million school bond. She didn't feel she knew enough about the plans for the school district's first major rebuilding project in 40 years.
Now, however, Kitchens plans to vote in November – and vote for the bond, if school board members put it back on the ballot at their August meeting.
A resident and grandparent of Westwood students, Kitchens said she's learning more about the bond — especially the financial information shared at Wednesday’s meeting of the community Facilities Advisory Committee.
Roughly 40 people attended the meeting inside the high school cafeteria, but many more — potentially thousands — accessed this meeting and others on Facebook Live.
“Everything I heard was good information,” Kitchens said.
After the bond was narrowly defeated, 410-415 in May, supporters have worked hard to persuade previously undecideds like Kitchens to back the bond. That will mean convincing more residents the educational benefits for Westwood's students, and for the community as a whole, are worth more than the 49-cent property tax increase – about $31 a month on a $100,000 home – the bond would require.
School buildings have reached the end of their construction life. With numerous entrances and static learning spaces, the design of Westwood's campus, its four schools, and classrooms is seriously outdated, bond supporters say.
They're using every platform they can to get that message out.
Wednesday’s meeting, presented by Brian Grubbs with SAMCO Capital and Joseph Vincelli from The Artist Outreach, has received nearly 700 views. The June meeting, also aired on Facebook Live, has already received more than 2,500 views and 40 comments.
Brenda Bing, secretary to the superintendent, said airing the Facilities Advisory Committee meetings live on Facebook is helping to spread information. Bing, who has attended nearly all 10 public meetings since February, said she sees many new faces — residents seeking more information who have not attended previous meetings.
Debbie Nethery, a two-year advisory committee member, said she is hearing more favorable reactions from attendees at the meetings, who are starting to understand the need for new facilities is “for the kids.”
“I think it will go this time,” said Debbie Nethery, a Westwood business and homeowner. “The climate is more upbeat.”
Grubbs described the current financial environment as favorable for the bond sale, with low interest rates. He said Westwood’s good financial record and lack of debt show the district has a “healthy fund balance,” which investors will favor.The district paid off its last bond in 1998.
Advisory committee members have listened to community criticisms of the plan. Based on community input, architects have already designed more defined entrances for middle and and high school students. In another revision, sixth-graders have a separate space within the middle school.
Not everyone in Westwood, however, is convinced.
Kenneth Wood, an outspoken critic of the bond proposal, said he will vote against the bond again.
“The Westwood community cannot support this much of an increase in taxes,” Wood posted on Facebook. “New facilities are not going to improve education unless Westwood can pay the educators better and keep them here.”
Superintendent Wade Stanford responded to the concern about teacher pay at Wednesday’s meeting, saying the district will give all teachers pay raises of $5,000, due to a substantial increase in funding from the Texas legislature.