Nathan adams Elementary is one of three bridge plan schools that got a last minute reprieve today. Seagoville High wasn't so lucky. (Photo courtesy Dallas ISD)

Nathan adams Elementary is one of three bridge plan schools that got a last minute reprieve today. Seagoville High wasn’t so lucky. (Photo courtesy Dallas ISD)

On March 26, 2015, the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees voted 9-0 to approve a bridge plan that would start a first round of renovations for public schools that would culminate in several waves of renovations, provided the district could get a $1.6 billion bond package passed.

That night, trustee Eric Cowan reminded the beneficiaries – Lakewood Elementary and Stonewall Jackson Elementary in particular – that a bond election would be coming because there were many more schools with many, many needs. His vote, he said, would be a leap of faith, an exercise in trust that the supporters of those schools would help get the bond passed.

Fast forward to now and that bond election did indeed pass. But last week, it looked like some of those schools that were prioritized for the bridge plan would have to wait for their renovations. As the news made the rounds, parents began to organize and both District 2 school board candidates sprung into action.

The four schools who faced a longer wait were Lakewood Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Elementary, Nathan Adams Elementary and Seagoville High. 

“I learned last Thursday, May 12th of the recommendation to delay Bridge Plan projects on 4 schools including Lakewood Elementary and Stonewall Jackson,” District 2 candidate Dustin Marshall said on Facebook. “I strongly disagree with this decision made by the administration, and I have been working diligently with several parent leaders to change the outcome of this decision.”

“As someone who spearheaded advocacy in favor of the IBP because of my concern over unsafe and inadequate facilities, I am deeply vested in having the IBP projects move forward in the original timeframe to which the District committed,” Mita Havlick, another candidate, informed her supporters. “No child should have to learn – and no teacher should have to teach – in a classroom that doesn’t meet basic standards for safety and comfort.”

Marshall indicated that he had also been in meetings with current trustees and Dallas ISD administration and had also  “set-up introductory discussions with a third-party construction firm (not involved in the bidding process) to verify that the initial bids are in line with market conditions.”

Havlick’s note indicated that she had been in communication with both chairs of the Lakewood and Stonewall Jackson Site-Based Decision Making committee, as well as “four of the eight current trustees.”

And just this morning, Lakewood Elementary Expansion Foundation supporters were contacting members of the media and sending out bulletins to LEEF members and Lakewood parents to keep them apprised of events as they unfolded.

“Lakewood Elementary’s bids were approximately $3.5M over the allocated $9.47M for construction costs,” LEEF said in a call-to-action distributed this morning. “Note that there were four bidders on the project and therefore we can feel confident that the overages are due to ongoing high construction demand affecting market pricing.”

But almost as quickly as the bulletins were sent out came word that the district had reconsidered its position.

“Although bids for these Bridge projects came in well over budget due to market conditions and other factors, the recommendation is to reject and rebid (the) Seagoville High School addition and go forward with the other elementary school projects, Nathan Adams ES, Lakewood ES, and Stonewall Jackson ES, per the bid evaluations,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said in a memo today. The memo also revealed that the Seagoville High School project only received one bid at close to $400 per square foot, which was “significantly higher than current values in the North Texas area.”

Why are the bids coming in so much higher? “The Contractor industry has suggested that the cost overruns are due to an unanticipated large number of attractive projects in the area (a possible bubble of construction activity), a lack of subcontractor labor availability, a lack of material availability (notably concrete), and competition from the private sector that lacks the governmental controls established to protect the District,” Hinojosa wrote in the memo.

The additional funds needed to meet the overages will likely come from remaining 2008 bond funds, Hinojosa proposed. In the meantime, the district will apparently begin working on efforts to market future projects (including the now back-to-the-drawing-board Seagoville High) better by meeting with construction industry organizations and their members.

With the bidding process kicking off for the first tier of schools in the 2015 bond package, this could throw a real monkey wrench in the budgeting process. While nobody at the district has said so, many parents of students in tier 4 and 5 schools, which will not see renovations for quite some time, are worried about whether overages will eat into their respective and worthy projects as well.

More on that later.

Photo Courtesy DISD

Last March, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved the bridge fund – a stop-gap measure aimed at taking funds out of the very healthy district surplus to address immediate needs on several campuses. During the debate, more than a couple of trustees said their vote came with a healthy amount of trust – trust that voters would remember their schools when the time came for a bond election.

Well, that time just may be coming. Dallas public schools have upwards of $1.8 billion in needed repairs, upgrades and deferred maintenance that must be addressed. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at a detailed report of the district’s needs offered in this 2013 report by Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group Inc.  In the meantime, the district is also conducting a series of town hall meetings to allow voters to educate themselves about the possible bond program, as well as what exactly it will address. You can also poke around on this site to see the various reports the Future Facilities Task Force has made to the board.

The next meeting will be Wednesday, August 19, at 6 p.m. at the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, 10707 Preston Road, Dallas. Trustees Edwin Flores and Mike Morath will be on hand to answer questions and explain the potential program.

Photo courtesy DISD

Photo courtesy DISD

Last night, the Dallas ISD board of trustees voted 9-0 to approve an amended bridge plan that will pump much-needed funds into improving some long-neglected schools, as well as set up more Pre-K classrooms.

But it is a drop in the bucket, which explains the long night and the wrangling that went in to coming up with a compromise. It’s saying something that of the schools that need improvements, the 20 schools that were picked included one that could’ve killed students and teachers with carbon monoxide fumes. If impending death is the benchmark for needing improvement, you can start to grasp at why some trustees needed assurances that their schools – that aren’t on the list – would indeed see improvement, too.

Trustee Eric Cowan passionately asked the large crowd who came last night to remember his vote when it came time to pass a new bond. And we should. We should remember it as a leap of faith that if we start improvements now, we will remember the schools not on this list, where children are also attending in portable buildings, in schools that need improvements. We should remember that if every single potential qualifying student signed up for Pre-K, we would not currently have the room to teach them all. I’ll have more on this next month, but early education is imperative.  It is absolutely vital to stopping the cycle of the school to prison pipeline.

So we need to remember these things in two or three years, when it comes time to vote on a bond package. If you’re a parent whose child will now go to a school that will be improved thanks to the bridge fund, it will be time to pay it forward.

Why? Because we’re in this together. I like to think of Dallas public schools as a body. We can get so caught up in the health of our one part that belongs to us, that we forget – decay and delayed improvement (both in a physical sense and educational sense) in one part can affect the health of the whole. So the health of Dunbar Elementary, for instance, goes, so goes the rest of the entire feeder pattern. So goes the health of that feeder pattern, so goes the health of the district.  And to take the point further, so goes the health of the district, so goes the health of the city, including the desire to move in to Dallas and send our children to our neighborhood schools.

The bridge plan is just that – a bridge, a step in the right direction of addressing neglect and overcrowding brought about through a variety of historical issues. This shouldn’t – and can’t – be a bridge to nowhere.

 

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One of the big draws when we bought in the Hollywood Heights neighborhood in Dallas was the school district. You see, just south of Lakewood, Hollywood Heights is zoned for the coveted Lakewood Elementary. We knew this was a great resource if we had kids and would help the property hold or increase in value (my fingers are crossed for increasing). Since we now have a child but she is only 3 months old, I didn’t know much about Lakewood Elementary or even DISD.

At a Hollywood Heights Santa Monica Neighborhood Association Meeting, I heard a few speakers from the Lakewood Elementary PTA discussing their capital campaign to update and expand Lakewood Elementary as it was growing beyond capacity; it was built in 1951 to accommodate 350 students. (more…)