With a tax base of just $67 million, Petersburg ISD ranks among the state’s poorer school districts. Enrollment has grown in recent years to 272, and the district has increased its fund balance from $1.6 million to $2 million during the past 30 months.
Earlier this year school trustees gave teachers an average $2,000 raise while restructuring pay scales. Petersburg ISD boosted pay for starting teachers to $37,850 which is more than Lubbock Cooper and Frenship and competitive with larger districts in the region.
Now with development of wind resources inside the district’s boundaries, Petersburg ISD is setting the foundation to ask voters in November to approve about $27 million in bonds to replace buildings built 50 to 90 years ago.
And 80 percent of the cost of construction will be paid with new revenue generated by the wind farm, while just 20 percent will come from current property owners.
“It’s like building a $100,000 home and spending only $20,000,” Petersburg ISD Superintendent Dr. Drew Howard explained Thursday during an informational meeting in the PISD cafeteria. “We really need to take advantage of this opportunity which won’t come around again in our lifetime.”
Petersburg ISD held two informational sessions last week to discuss facility needs and the need for a bond election. Two more sessions are planned this week – at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, and Thursday, June 7, in the Petersburg ISD Cafeteria. More meetings will be held later this summer to seek input and provide more specifics on project plans.
“This is our chance to build brand new facilities which should last for the next 60 to 90 years,” Howard said Thursday. “The school has to be here for the community to thrive,” he pointed out. “This will take us from a good situation to a great situation.”
After receiving final written approval May 25 from the Texas Public Utilities Commission, Xcel Energy is expected to begin construction this month on its wind farm. Over the next 13 months, crews are scheduled to erect 239 turbines designed to generate 2 megawatts each for a total output of 478 mw.
The wind turbines are expected to increase the district’s tax base almost 10-fold – from $67 million to more than $650 million.
A tax abatement agreement limits tax revenues from the project during the initial 10 years available for district M&O (maintenance and operations). After that, most of the taxes Petersburg ISD receives from the wind farm will likely go to the state through Chapter 41 Recapture (Robin Hood plan), unless Petersburg ISD voters approve the bond issue. In that case, the additional tax revenues will toward bond payments.
Petersburg ISD’s current property tax rate is $1.17 per $100 valuation – all designated for M&O. Since the district has no indebtedness, its I&S (interest and sinking) rate is zero.
If voters approve the proposed bond issue, Howard said the local tax rate would likely increase to $1.56 – $1.06 for M&O and $0.50 to I&S. After 10 years, the M&O rate will likely decline as the district’s taxable property increases when abatements expire.
While Petersburg ISD’s M&O tax rate is expected to decline from $1.17 to $1.06, the effective tax will be about the same due to the increased tax base.
The average Petersburg homeowner, with a $50,000 house, would see taxes go up 53 cents a day or less than $200 per year. For someone owning a $100,000 home, the cost would rise $1.06 per day or about $390 per year.
Homeowners would have filed their Over 65 Homestead Exemption with the Appraisal District will not see an increase in their Petersburg ISD taxes unless there are significant improvements made to their property.
“The revenues set aside for M&O is subject to recapture, but I&S is not,” Howard explains. “Those funds can only be used on facilities and capital outlays. If voters approve the bond issue, then we’ll be able to use the revenues from the wind farm instead of sending that new income to the state.”
He described Petersburg ISD’s current facilities as old, inefficient and costly. The red brick building was constructed in 1929, the high school in 1953, cafeteria in 1957, elementary school in 1959, Field house in 1967, and the auditorium remodeled in 1967.
The district asked architects to look at facility needs with the idea of possibly remodeling current structures. They couldn’t recommend that option, Howard said, because of the high cost of making facilities ADA-compliant while also dealing with asbestos abatement, and deteriorated plumbing and infrastructure.
Instead, BGR Architects and Lee Lewis Construction, Inc., listed advantages of new facilities:
–Decreased utility cost
–Decrease maintenance cost
–Warranties and lower service fees
–Safety and security upgrades
–Ready for the next 60-90 years
“It’s much easier to work on a 2018 air conditioner then patch up one from 1967,” Howard points out. “And we will be able to build something with a smaller footprint that will be more efficient.”
The new school will be designed for up to 350 students, with provisions for future expansion.
As envisioned now, the construction would be divided into three phases over several years.
Phase I targets academic facilities:
–New K-12 classrooms
–New Ag Shop facilities
–Two new gymnasiums (in addition to the current gym)
–New administration offices
Phase II targets current extra-curricular facilities:
–New “real” track
–Remodel/relocate ag farm
–Refurbish football bleachers
–New press box
–Refurbish football field
–Keep current gym
Phase III involves future needs
–CTE program expansion
“New facilities can only enhance Petersburg’s growth and progress,” Howard pointed out. “Instead of a question of ‘Why move to Petersburg?’ it will be ‘Why not move to Petersburg?’ Our ability to take advantage of new technology alone will be enough to change that narrative.”
With adequate space available, the new facilities will be adjacent to the existing school, Howard said. The new K-12 facilities could be available by the 2020-21 school year, with Phase II possibly available by 2021-22.
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