San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 5th, 2010
School trustees approve $1.5M for improvements


Left to right: San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer, Trustees David Chiu and Judy Allen, and Assistant Superintendent Michael Abild at last month’s school board meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

After much debate and two divided votes, San Marcos CISD trustees last month initiated the design of a career and technology education facility (CATE) and authorized $1,509,525 in improvements to all campuses.

Trustees hired Austin-based Pfluger Associates Architects to program and design the CATE facility, a new building that the firm estimates may comprise 13,000 square feet with amenities such as shop areas, tool storage space, classrooms and restrooms. The CATE facility, planned for construction at the east end of San Marcos High School (SMHS), would service the district’s career academy program currently under development.

Trustees ball parked the CATE facility at $2 million to $3 million. Trustees have not yet authorized the construction of the CATE facility.

Pfluger Associates President Brad Pfluger said a schematic design for the facility would cost about $25,000. San Marcos CISD Assistant Superintendent for Business and Support Services Michael Abild said Pfluger Associates’ fee for the job would be drawn from leftover bond funds.

“I would feel more comfortable waiting on this and waiting until we get the whole package together with the district,” said San Marcos CISD Trustee John Crowley. “And I think there’s been some debate, too, with members of the board. Do we really feel comfortable going ahead like this?”

Crowley then made a motion to table the matter for discussion at a later date, but his motion failed with a 4-3 vote. Trustees David Chiu and David Castillo voted in the minority with Crowley. Chiu and Crowley later said they support the construction of a CATE facility. Chiu said he wants the CATE facility to be larger than 13,000 square feet to meet future needs.

Trustee Judy Allen made a motion to authorize Pfluger Associates to proceed with work on the CATE facility. Her motion carried, 5-2, with Crowley and Chiu voting in the minority.

Later that night, trustees voted 4-0 to authorize a budget amendment to allow the expenditure of $1,509,525 for items district staff identified as being “priority items” for nine campuses. Chiu, Crowley and Castillo abstained from the vote. Each item approved for funding is designed as related to either construction, maintenance, purchasing, or technology.

Crowley said all items on the priority list are important, though he doubted the district ought to fund all of them. Crowley expressed concern that state funding would be reduced in the next few years, making it difficult for the district to grow its fund balance.

“You told us at the last meeting that we’re going to come to you with as much as $4 million in maintenance,” said Crowley to Abild. “We have a proposal for $8 million, $9 million, $7 million for the Phoenix program. And it keeps going on. I just feel like I’m being nickled and dimed with millions of dollars. So I would feel much more comfortable saying, ‘Let’s get it on the table, let’s get the board to agree this is what we can afford.’ ”

San Marcos CISD Superintendent Patty Shafer said board members seemed to be scapegoating Abild, who she said was merely following directions set forth by trustees over the past months. Abild had recommended approval of both the development of a CATE facility schematic design and the expenditure of $1.5 million for items on the priority needs list.

“This isn’t just a wish list,” Shafer said. “If you talk to the (school) principals, their wish list was much longer that this, and we worked hard to bring it down to the things that we feel like are the most important that need to be done now.”

Trustees funded the needs list items from $15 million in reserve funds ostensibly designated for construction purposes. Abild told trustees the $15 million is part of an approximately $20 million pot that the district designated for construction in order to shelter the funds from “possible tampering” by the state legislature. Abild said the board indicated the funds should also be used to make improvements not completed by the last bond program, address some needs of Phoenix Academy, and serve other needs designated by the board. Abild said the $20 million includes remaining bond funds, the proceeds of property sales, and $15 million in reserves.

“We’re talking about a million here, a million there — before you know it, the reserve fund becomes depleted,” Chiu said in criticism of the planned $1.5 million expenditure.

Allen said several times that she thought the board had already informally agreed at two previous special meetings to spend the $1.5 million and authorize creation of a CATE facility schematic design.

Pfluger Associates, with assistance from district staff, created the priority needs list from a facility needs assessment recently conducted by the firm. Trustees recently hired Pfluger Associates to develop a new master facility plan for the district. The facility needs assessment is included in the master planning scope of work.

Pfluger Associates’ fee for master planning and for certain additional services is invoiced hourly at the following rates:

Architectural Principals – $115
Senior Project Architect/Engineer – $75
Project Architect/Engineer – $50
School Facility Planning Consultant – $75
Architectural Production – $45
Clerical Administrator – $35
Clerical Staff – $30

SMHS’s career academy program is anticipated to begin in the 2011-2012 school year. In July, trustees voted 5-0 (Crowley and Castillo abstained) to develop the program, which district staff said will cost $493,000 in the program’s first year of operation. Crowley and Castillo favored partial implementation of academies.

Full implementation of career academies will involve dividing the approximately 2,100 high school students into four areas of study, namely:

• AACME, for agriculture, automotive, construction, military and engineering fields.
• FACT, for fine arts, communication and technology fields.
• H3, for healthcare, hospitality and human services fields.
• MLB, for marketing, law, and business fields.

The program involves moving the remainder of students into the ninth grade academy and Phoenix Academy, both of which currently exist. The ninth grade academy, which is not career-themed, is intended to facilitate students’ transition to high school and beyond through self-exploration of their interests and strengths, and to build self-confidence. Phoenix Academy serves as an alternative graduation route for students more likely to drop out of high school.

Trustees may consider acquiring a new building for the Phoenix Academy program, a subject mentioned in passing during the fiscal discussion at Monday’s meeting.

“I know there’s a tremendous need for it,” Chiu said to his colleagues. “Yes, we need a new building for the program. But at $12 million? Let’s see what we can afford.”

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0 thoughts on “School trustees approve $1.5M for improvements

  1. Thanks to Mr. Crowley and Mr. Chiu for voting to slow this down a bit. This is the first I’ve heard of this project, and while at first glance I am in support, questions abound.

  2. Leftover bond money should not be spent at the discretion of the School Board, because It isn’t the School Board’s money to spend. It belongs to the taxpayers who allocated it for specific purposes. If the prior School Board inflated the costs and/or spent less than the budgets, the extra money should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of reduced property taxes.

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