BIG COUNTRY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – On a special edition of Big Country Politics, News Director Manny Diaz spoke with Wylie ISD superintendent Joey Light about an upcoming bond.
Over the past few years, the Wylie Independent School District has experienced substantial growth and continues to expand.
“When my son was playing in the state semifinal game in 2008, and we were playing Ponder, and we had about 3,300 kids, and they had about 3,300 kids; that’s district-wide. And so every time I think golly, we’ve grown a lot, I just look at, they have to what they have done, they have really grown. And so we have grown right at 2,200 kids since then,” Light explained. “Right now, we have right at 5,500 students in the district. And you know, a lot of that has come in the last five, seven years. And then, as we try to look down the road at what’s coming our way, our demographers have really looked hard at our different housing developments in the economic situation here in Abilene. And they’re predicting us to grow about 2,000 students district-wide over the next seven, eight years or so.”
Light has been with the school district as a superintendent for 16 years. In that time, he has seen the growth of the school district, including the addition of new campuses.
“So there’s no doubt, you know, over the last five years, we’ve added Eastside campuses, which was a new situation for us. We have an east elementary and east junior high, and then, most recently, we added an AST intermediate. And about 45% of our kiddos live east of 83/84. So that’s the students that those serve in grades eight and under, that all the high school kids go to our high school, and what we have really seen is, as we have kind of met the needs of our eighth grade and under students, our high school needs have continued to grow and we put ourselves in a situation where now we’ve had to add three portables and we’ve had to add some extra buildings with classrooms. And so we’re just in that position. We just don’t have any room for extra growth at the high school right now,” Light said.
In the state of Texas, school districts do not receive state funding for renovating or building new schools, leaving the responsibility to taxpayers. Light shared that the Wylie ISD bond will not only meet current needs but also accommodate future growth.
“As we have continued to grow into the facilities that we’ve added, you know, we, we have been seeing the train coming down the tracks for several years, and this has been an ongoing discussion. And so, we had a growth and planning committee that has been meeting. We had 25 community members that came together and really tried to look under every rock and see every possibility available for space,” Light explained. “So we looked at facilities, and then we also looked at what our current needs are, and what our needs would be into the future, you know, five to eight years. So we can anticipate some of those needs and try to make sure that we have met those as much as possible. And really, we’ve had a perfect storm of sorts, not only with our growth but with inflation, like it’s been the last couple of years. It’s just something that the district wasn’t able to do on its own. So, therefore, we’re just in a situation where we felt like it was time to come to the taxpayers.”
He added that the decision to ask taxpayers was made with careful consideration.
“I think there’s always going to be some folks who are concerned about their tax bill, and rightly so. I’m a taxpayer in Wylie ISD, as well. And so, you know, I understand that you know, our charge is to educate the students that are in our district, and we are just in a situation where when the need arises, and we have gone beyond our capacity, we’re just in a position where we’ve got to come to them. It’s not something we relish to ask for, for that support, but we’re just in that place right now,” Light said.
Proposition A proposes the construction of 62 new classrooms, which will accommodate up to 1,000 additional students. This project would also allow the construction of classrooms that cater to a variety of careers and expand the band hall, practice gym, and agricultural building. The cost of this project is estimated at $121 million.
“What we tried to do was look at our needs, the needs in our future, and the growth in that direction. And we tried to marry that to say, Okay, we need room for 1,000 students to get us up to about 2,500 kids at the high school,” Light said. “A big part of that will be our career and technology education classes. And that would be anything from agriculture to robotics, our nursing classes, the AV audio-visual classes, and so we’re going to have a broader area of studies for our students who are trying to prepare to go out and make a living in the world.”
The district is requesting $3 million for safety and security measures such as site fencing security, film on entrance, windows and doors, door hardware, access door panels, and video surveillance.
“There’s always something we can do a little bit better. And so all those things, the security vestibules cameras, the glass that can’t be penetrated as easily. So there’s all these different areas that require not only some immediate needs, but needs as they show themselves, that we can make improvements in different areas. So the fencing, of course, is a big part of that. We have done a lot of that, but there’s always room for improvement,” Light shared.
Proposition B aims to allocate $29 million towards the demolition of the concession stand and construction of a community event center at the north endzone of the Hugh Sandifer stadium. This center would serve various purposes, such as hosting community lunches, recognition events, end-of-year banquets, class reunions, professional development sessions, and staff meetings.
“We have seen as we have grown is that on the north side of the stadium, if you’ve been there, you see it’s it’s really congested. And it’s, it’s really put us in a compromising position. In some ways, we talked about safety and security, when you have all the fans there going on the concession stand and using the restrooms, and then you’ve got teams going through there at the half and officials going there and coaches. It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Light said. “Our goal is to separate the concessions and restrooms so that the public does not have to come into contact with the athletes or the officials or the coaches, separate all that increase restroom facilities and concession capabilities. But then again, increase vastly the number of lockers for all the different sports that use the stadium, whether it’s football or soccer track, and try to make it to where that is their home base.”
He added that this will also give culinary arts students the opportunity to cater events and provide better facilities for visiting teams. Additionally, the district is currently searching for new buses, which is estimated to cost $9 million. Wylie ISD has shared that these buses travel more than 444,000 miles per year.
“We buy buses every year, but as we’ve continued to grow, the number of buses that we have to have on routes increases, so we just haven’t been able to retire buses like we need to. And so the goal here is to infuse our transportation with quite a few new buses initially, but then also have some cycle of continuing to bring new vehicles into the system,” Light shared. “We’d like to retire some of those buses that have some high mileage in them, and I can tell you that as we’ve entered these districts in 5A, our travel has increased incredibly… We’re going down the road a lot to Lubbock, Wichita Falls, San Angelo and Midland-Odessa. And in the old days, we were making 40-minute trips, and now we’re making two-and-a-half hour trips, and it’s just, you know, when you hop on a bus going to Amarillo, it takes all day, and then you know, you got to provide dependable transportation. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Early voting has already begun, and voting day will be on Tuesday, November 7.