Almost 50 Elkhart Independent School District taxpayers attended a town hall meeting Monday night to voice issues and concerns related to the district’s upcoming $9.4 million bond election set for Dec. 17.

The meeting was kicked off with an informational presentation by EISD Superintendent Glenn Hambrick — explaining details of the bond issue before addressing concerns from citizens during a question-and-answer session.

The two-phase bond election, called by EISD trustees in September, would be supported by a maximum tax rate increase of 33 cents to the district’s debt service tax rate.

Phase I of the bond issue is for the construction of a $7 million 35-classroom elementary school located on a 57-acre tract of land north of Elkhart recently purchased by the district for $325,000.

To fund Phase I, the district is estimating a maximum debt service tax rate increase of 33 cents — a rate administrators hope will decrease upon the district’s qualification in the state Existing Debt Allotment (EDA) program.

EDA looks at a district’s existing debt and pays a portion of the district’s annual payment based on the need of the district, Hambrick said.

“If we qualify for EDA — which we have done in the past — the state would pay about 62 percent of the debt payment each year after we issue the debt,” he said. “That would reduce our debt service tax rate from 33 cents to 13 cents.

“The only way we wouldn’t get EDA is if the state does away with the program,” he added. “It is not likely that will happen, because to do so would put many school districts in dire straits.”

Phase II of the bond election includes $2.4 million for facility renovations at the middle school and high school campuses. The tax rate for Phase II would increase the debt service tax rate another 11 cents the first year and then decrease to 4 cents with EDA participation.

“Phase II will not happen unless we receive EDA for Phase I,” Hambrick said.

The tax rate increase was the main concern of taxpayers, particularly those on fixed incomes.

“It is really going to hurt retired people like myself,” one citizen said.

“Most of us are concerned about the tax increase,” Hambrick replied. “And I don’t have an argument for that.

“We are trying to be as frugal and responsible with your money as we can,” he continued. “We are not being elaborate, but are trying to meet the space needs of the students in the district.

“We are doing our best to see that the tax rate never reaches 33 cents,” he said. “We know it is painful, but we have to tell you that.”

One citizen asked Hambrick what would happen if the bond didn’t pass.

“We will still have to have the space, but will have no money for new facilities,” the superintendent said. “In my opinion we would have to have portable buildings brought in and placed on the site of the old Alamo school.

“But we only have so much space to put portables,” he added. “We will do what we have to do, but Plan B doesn’t look that attractive to me.”

Hambrick said that even if the bond passes, he still has concerns about how to accommodate growth while facilities are being built.

“We would be in the new facility hopefully in the fall of 2007,” he said. “I’m just not sure what we are going to do in the mean time.”

Former EISD Superintendent Johnnie Keeling, who was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, asked Hambrick to explain the state required 22-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio for students through the fourth grade and to tell how EISD was close to exceeding that ratio.

“In the 1993-94 school year, we had 493 students enrolled in our elementary school,” Hambrick explained. “We have an enrollment of 660 now.

“Most of our classes have 21 or 22 students and we are expecting another increase in enrollment next year,” he added. “We can apply for a waiver from the state if we go over that limit, and it increases our chances if we have a plan in place to resolve the issue.”

In regard to the tax rate, Hambrick did point out that EISD currently has one of the lowest in the area, with a $1.50 maintenance and operations tax rate and no debt service tax.

“Even with the addition of a debt service tax rate, we would not have the highest rate in the area,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is the only way that exists to build schools in Texas.

“No matter what happens — no matter how you vote — we want you to have all the facts before you go to the polls.”

A second town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 15, just two days before the bond election. Those planning to vote in the election must be registered no later than Friday.

Early voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 30 through Dec. 13 at the EISD tax office, located at 106B W. Parker St. in downtown Elkhart; and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 9 at the EISD Administration Office, located at 301 W. Parker St. in Elkhart

Regular voting in the bond election will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Elkhart Civic Center, located at 309 W. Parker St. in Elkhart.

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