$40M for new school buildings proposed

Voters to decide on performing arts, aquatics, sports facilities

SAN BENITO — Should the school district issue $40 million in bonds to pay for three new buildings?

That’s the question that will be put to voters in the November general election.

School officials are proposing the bond issue to finance a performing arts center, an aquatics center and an indoor multipurpose athletic facility.

School district officials believe the bond issue could be good for the cities’ economic development, attract more people into the city and help prevent parents from enrolling their children in other school districts.

More than 20 residents, parents, faculty members and school officials assembled in the cafeteria of Riverside Middle School on Tuesday to hear the district address the Board of Trustees’ estimated $40 million proposal.

During the meeting, some of the school district officials shared their views about the proposed projects.

“We’re behind on a lot of things in San Benito and I think that this would be great for San Benito,” said Trustee Janie Silva. “One day, we might just have an Olympian in our school and this is the opportunity that we need for all kids to enjoy. This is for them,” she added.

A town hall meeting attendee expressed his views of the proposed bonds and said “the kids need enjoyment.”

“We have competition in Brownsville,” said Jesse Montemayor. “They have an aquatic center. There’s a competition in Harlingen and they have an aquatic center and the South Texas Academy has competitions. We need more for our students so my kudos to you for doing this for the students. It’s about time. My only question is what took you so long? But we need it.”

However, not everyone agreed.

With a notebook and pen in hand, San Benito High School parent Annielou Garcia voiced her concerns about security, education and overcrowding to board members during the meeting.

“Why don’t we spend that money for the high school?” Garcia asked. “The school is so packed. Why don’t we focus on the kids’ security and the kids’ education instead of on their enjoyment? For now, the security is only there during school hours. When the kids are there after school, there are soccer, cheerleading and football, there’s no security,” she added.

According to Superintendent Nate Carman, bond proceeds cannot be used to pay personnel and the district has more security guards on duty this year than last year. Additionally, he said district personnel have made education initiatives such as adding career credit technology courses into the district.

“We’re mindful and we are taking into consideration concerns like yours on overcrowding at the high school,” said school board president Michael Vargas. “We have heard these concerns and we are working on creating solutions moving forward.”

During the meeting, the father of a pre-kindergarten student from Rangerville Elementary School expressed his thoughts on “investing more money into schools instead of entertainment.” He said the school “needs a lot of help” and mentioned needing to have an indoor gym and increasing staff.

“My son is barely coming into his first year of school in San Benito,” said Edgar Garza. “I want him to have an education instead of having an aquatic center or something like that. Why don’t you guys invest money into that area where most people don’t even know that school exists. I believe that’s where you guys should put the money.”

The performing arts center is estimated to cost approximately $30 million to $31 million and is the highest estimated expenditure out of the three projects.

District officials believe the center would create opportunities for San Benito schools and the community at large to come in and use the facilities and provide a space for artistic performances, such as orchestra, classical guitar, theater and flamenco.

The aquatics center is estimated to cost $5 million to $5.5 million and the multi-purpose sports facility is estimated to cost $3.5 million to $4 million.

According to district officials, there will not be a tax increase and the rate will remain at $1.3049 per $100 valuation because the district paid off one bond issue this year. This new bond issue, if approved by voters, would replace that bond issue.

The Board of Trustees appointed a committee comprised of local residents to serve on the Bond Election Committee this summer.

“They worked very diligently to identify and determine the future needs of the district,” Carman stated in a press release. “We appreciate the hard work and efforts of the committee members who worked tirelessly in arriving on the proposed projects which will be included in the 2018 Bond Election.”

The next town hall meeting will be held on Oct. 15 at the San Benito High School Cafeteria.

Early voting for the proposed bond election begins Oct. 22 and Election Day will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The proposed bond would finance three buildings — a performing arts center, an aquatics center and an indoor multipurpose athletic facility.