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Midland voters weigh whether school district improvements are worth a billion dollar school bond

Legacy High School was built in the 60s and is the newer of Midland ISD's two comprehensive high schools.
Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Legacy High School was built in the 60s and is the newer of Midland ISD's two comprehensive high schools.

On Nov. 7, Midland voters will decide on a school bond worth over $1.4 billion that could transform public education in the city for years to come.

The bond, brought forward by Midland Independent School District, would provide the money to rebuild both Midland and Legacy High Schools in new locations.

It would also fund the construction of a new elementary and convert existing buildings into middle schools as well as provide funds for repairs and security improvements across the district.

However there are vocal critics of the bond proposal who say it will eventually raise property taxes and stall efforts to improve academics at the struggling campuses.

Too many problems or too much at once

Rachel Walker is with the new nonprofit MOVE Midland, which is opposing the bond. She believes the district doesn’t need voters to approve the $1.4 billion bond before it can begin working on its problems.

“They have a budget surplus that they could use to not only build [the] elementary school that is proposed in this current bond, but work on paying down some of their deferred maintenance,” Walker said in an interview with Marfa Public Radio.

From there she thinks the district should create a plan to slowly roll out smaller bonds, beginning next year with a bond to build a third comprehensive high school.

“In 2024 we could have another bond on the ballot to get some facility improvements that are needed. But in that meantime, we're saying, ‘Hey, MISD, let's work on our educational outcomes.”

Stan VanHoozer disagrees. He’s leading Energize Midland Schools, the political action committee campaigning for the district’s bond. He’s been a teacher, principal and administrator at Midland ISD and believes there are too many issues that need to be addressed now.

“Our secondary schools have small classrooms, old furniture, lack of seating, crowded halls, limited electrical outlets, [and] bathrooms, no one wants to use.” VanHoozer explained.

The last time Midlanders passed a school bond was in 2012 and, according to VanHoozer, it’s been about two decades since the community funded serious improvements for secondary campuses.

He said, “Our kids deserve schools designed for the 21st century learner to enable our kids the best opportunity to be prepared for the future that they're going to experience.”

Since 2010, over 30,000 people have moved to the Midland area as the fracking boom drew people from all over the country to the region, causing many classrooms and campuses to become overcrowded.

What will this bond actually cost?

VanHoozer and school officials have said passing this bond will not cause local property taxes to dramatically increase. In fact, Midland ISD claims the property tax rate won’t go up at all.

“The [adopted] tax rate is adequate to pay off this bond,” VanHoozer explained.

He said that’s due to the district paying down existing debt as well as legislation that’s expected to go into effect that will help lower property taxes.

Walker and other bond opponents worry the claims made by the district aren’t realistic and are misleading.

She said, “While taxpayers may not see in the next couple of years an increase in their tax bills, we will, over the life of this bond, see a substantial tax increase.”

According to Walker, funds set aside by the state to help school district’s lower property taxes will not last and eventually Midland ISD will have to raise taxes while it is still paying off the $1.4 billion bond.

Students leave Midland High School which is nearly a century old according to Midland ISD.
Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Students leave Midland High School which is nearly a century old according to Midland ISD.

Fight over improving grades and creating a good learning environment

Voting against the bond is part of MOVE Midland’s strategy to hold Midland ISD officials accountable, according to Walker.

“We feel that this bond is detrimental to our students.” She explained, “We have failing schools [and] we are just not getting the type of educational improvement that our kids need.”

Her stance is, if district officials can’t ensure that students are receiving a quality education, why should locals approve the billion-dollar bond to build brand new schools. Walker said district officials need to have their feet held to the fire.

“We're not saying that there's not facility improvements that are needed. We can address that in due time, but we need MISD to step it up in terms of educating our students first,” she said.

VanHoozer rejects that idea. He said, “To me, that sounds like we want to hold our kids hostage. Facilities are just a separate issue from academics.”

For him, this bond is about making sure students don’t have to go to school in crowded and decrepit schools.

“It's time for us to have a different mindset and give our kids a place that they want to attend.” he said, “It's not the be-all end-all for academics, but it's a tool for the district to use to help improve academics.”

Early voting begins on Monday, Oct. 23 and Election Day is Nov. 7.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.