Photo by Daniel Elizondo/Silsbee Bee Silsbee ISD President Sam Edd Harrell (left) speaks during a workshop to plan out renewing a bond election for the November ballot. Silsbee Superintendent Richard Bain listens to the hearing. -Photo by Daniel Elizondo
By Daniel Elizondo
Silsbee ISD isn’t quick to give up just yet as they vote to renew a bond election for the upcoming November ballot.
A $29.5 million bond failed on the May ballot after only 614 total voters turned out for the election that lost by 13 votes.
“We have to take a different pro-active approach,” said Superintendent Richard Bain. “We just can’t let this go as if nothing. We are in dire need of schools that need help quickly.”
The bond proposal is to cover the building of a new elementary school that will hold grades 1-5 in one core building on land between Read-Turrentine and Laura Reeves Elementary Schools. The proposal will also cover renovations to Laura Reeves in order to hold kindergarten and a proposal of pre-kinder as well. Also, monies would be utilized from the proposal to renovate Edwards-Johnson Memorial Silsbee Middle School and then raze both Kirby Elementary and Read-Turrentine.
On Monday evening during a workshop, Silsbee board trustees met with Claycomb Associates representative Jolee Willis to begin preparations towards a new approach for the proposal in order to get the bond passed.
“The plan we followed last time was a more focused, under the radar campaign,” Willis said. “We need to get more people on the ground to tip the scales more.”
Claycomb originally estimated a cost of a new elementary school and then razing the current Kirby and Read-Turrentine Elementary schools at $25.2 million and increased to $29.5, but since inflation, the new bond will call for $29.9 million.
“We have to take a 2-pronged approach,” said board trustee James deGaravilla. “We have to get people to get out and vote. I think a good number of people didn't vote against it but the ones that voted against it did so because they were going on the perception of our economy. I think it's a false perception.”
A secondary plan to renovate schools only with a $10 million bond was shot down by board members, citing that a tax increase would be equivalent to that of a $29 million bond. The payoff on the smaller bond would be shorter resulting in a high tax rate.
Board members are also concerned about negative publicity that the district suffered after the Hardin County Tax-Assessor collector made public during a commissioners court meeting about back taxes owed in Silsbee.
“For some reason, it seems the county has an issue with us using an independent party to collect our taxes,” board trustee Alan Sanford said. “Despite what the county found and painting a negative picture of us – not going after our delinquent tax dollars – we have a very aggressive program to get back taxes. Our goal is not to take people out of their homes, but to get people on a payment plan to stay in their home and get right with us and right with the county.”
Board trustees weighed options on the issue and discussed views on how it could negatively affect the outcome of the election. Kirsten Phillips, Assistant Superintendent of Finance, told board trustees that Silsbee ISD tax collection rate is 98-99 percent, currently.
“It's a totally separate issue, but to paint that as to say we aren't collecting our taxes, and that we aren't fulfilling the fiduciary duties as a trustee, when we are to make sure that we are fair to all taxpayers,” deGaravilla added. “At the end of the day and their goal is to go after every delinquent taxpayer and try to evict them from their homes – that is crazy. That is not what we are about. I don't think that is what any of us are about.”
The board is working to gather names and begin working on a committee to help propell a campaign to increase voters and feed the public information both statistical on the school’s part and economy.
“We definitely have to reach up further north with more participation from them,” Board President Sam Edd Harrell said. “Somehow we are missing out on them, even here in the city. And now that we have talked to the people, the parents, staff and extended families, we found that they did not get out and vote. They are in support of it, but it got away from them because there was just not enough publicity about it.”
Willis advised the board to be pro-active in the community along with a political action committee.
Early voting will begin on October 21.