The Calallen school board was all smiles at a recent special board meeting as the board voted to authorize $43 million of long-awaited improvements to the district that were approved by voters in a November bond election.
The projects were delayed up to four months because of a lawsuit filed by Calallen resident Karen Ford in December that sought to void the results of the bond election since the district omitted Hilltop Community Center as a polling place in one of the published notices.
The school district won the case in court after a two-day trial on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 after 214th District Court Judge Joaquin Villarreal ruled there was no evidence that anyone was denied the right to vote and the school district seemed to be in "substantial compliance" with the applicable election laws.
The school district then reached a settlement with Ford in early April to pay Ford's legal expenses of $11,000 in exchange for Ford agreeing not to appeal the ruling. The school district also incurred about $60,000 of legal fees defending Ford's lawsuit.
Superintendent Arturo Almendarez said the Texas Attorney General's Office was reluctant to give its clearance for the bond sales while litigation was underway and settling the matter out of court allowed the school district to proceed before interest rates rose.
"It gives you a great sense of relief," Almendarez said. "We've worked on this for almost three years and the voters strongly supported it. We are very excited."
Frost Bank Senior Vice President Rogelio Rodriguez presented the final figures to the school board for the $43.665 million in bonds at the May 21 special meeting.
The bonds were sold at a 4.71 percent interest rate and saved the district more than $300,000, compared to a rate quoted earlier the same day.
"It was very well received," Rodriguez said. "It's been an exciting story and we had over three conference calls with Dr. Almendarez today. We wanted them to know every step of the way, 'This is what is happening.'"
According to Rodriguez, the district's stable financial performance and good fiscal practices, coupled with a population whose average household income is above the national average, contributed to the success in selling the bonds.
"It's very much been focused on what is right for the district," Rodriguez said. "The staff has been very responsive. All the money will be used to meet the needs of the students."
The bond sale will officially close on June 13 and will reach final maturity in 2038.
Under the direction of architectural firm Ferrell/Brown & Associates Inc. of Corpus Christi, the district plans to begin breaking ground on a new high school agricultural facility in August.
Next up are remodeling and additions to East Elementary School and Wood River Elementary School that are planned to begin in September, Almendarez said.
Work on a new Magee Intermediate School should begin in December, the superintendent said.
"All of the schools and technology will come first," Almendarez said. "We're anxious and excited and hopefully everything will come together in a timely manner."
Work on all the district's projects is tentatively scheduled to be finished by August 2010, with the athletic improvements, including renovating Wildcat Stadium, coming last.
In addition to the design ideas of the architects, Almendarez said the administration will seek the opinion of those whom the bond will benefit the most.
"Teachers, principals, and other campus personnel will have a lot of input into the design of the projects," Almendarez said. "Students, especially secondary students, will also be asked to contribute their ideas."
The last major bond for Calallen schools was called in the early 1980s and voters approved two smaller bonds in the 1990s. No new major facilities have been built at Calallen ISD in 25 years.
Property tax rates promised to the taxpayers by the bond proposal were met, Rodriguez said.
The school district's current property tax rate is $1.10 per $100 of assessed valuation.
The rate will remain unchanged for the 2008-09 school year and increase to $1.2992 in 2009-10, Almendarez said.
Exceptions to the tax increase will be made for seniors 65 and older and disabled homeowners.