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How The Dallas School District Plans To Spend $1.6 Billion

As part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative, we dig into the $1.6 billion bond issue that Dallas voters will decide on November 3. First, we look at what exactly is in the package -- new schools, expanded cafeterias and a lot of new technology. 

As a volunteer with the Crime Watch Executive Board, Alex Garcia has spent a lot of time talking to West Dallas residents. Not all of their concerns are about neighborhood safety.

Garcia said some parents don’t want to send their kids to the public schools here. Take Pinkston High School – it’s under capacity and is one of nine schools that would be rebuilt for $464,840,000 billion from the bond package.

“I mean, it’s due that we get a high school, just like other places, like Spruce,” Garcia said. “You know? They’ve got a new high school over there and they’re doing HVAC, technology and everything, and early college.”

Still, Garcia has some concerns.

“Is it gonna be for West Dallas or is it gonna be for outsiders?” he asked.

Isaac Faz co-chaired the Future Facilities Task Force, the group that decided which projects should get funded by the bond package.

“Pinkston is a very unique situation because it is under capacity, but there’s a big need in west Dallas,” Faz said. “And the idea for Pinkston is to make it a better school with respect to making more opportunities for students with the CTE programs.”

CTE stands for career and technical education. Students in this kind of program receive specialized training so they can land jobs after high school. About $92 million will pay for new educational programs like CTE as well as early childhood and innovation schools.

Faz says his committee looked at other issues, too, like a building’s age and capacity. The median age of schools in the district is 47 years. Under the bond plan, 19 schools will get additional classrooms to alleviate overcrowding.

“I don’t know one parent that says we want a sub par building, with sub par teachers and sub par principals,” Faz said. "Every parent wants the best for their kids and every student wants to go in and be inspired, not only by their instructors but by the building that they’re in. They want to feel safe. They want to know that the roof is going to be okay, that the AC is gonna work on that hot May day or that hot Sept day.”

Nearly $200 million will cover the cost of those additional classrooms -- 326 in all. More than $230 million will pay for improvements to gyms, libraries, science labs, cafeterias, etc.

After a recent community meeting, Parent Danae Gutierrez talked about a number of concerns. She said places like Foster Elementary – the school she attended as a kid – has a lot of needs. Starting with paint.

“I went to one of their PTA meetings not too long ago and they were talking about how do we paint the school because it has never been painted … ever,” said Gutierrez.

At Thomas Jefferson High School, Gutierrez says the library is too small.

“Kids can’t just say, 'I’m gonna use the library,' cause it’s always being used because there’s not enough space for somebody else to do something there,” Gutierrez said. “So you can’t have two classes at the same time, there’s no room.”

For parent Michelle Wilner, her biggest concern is where to send her 4-year-old daughter next year. Right now, she’s in pre-k at a private school.

“My husband and I feel like we’ve been plagued with this problem that we can’t send her to our neighborhood school because we feel as parents it just doesn’t measure up,” Wilner said.

At that same meeting, she heard an idea that hooked her: an all-girls STEAM academy – that’s the traditional STEM subjects -- science, tech, engineering and math, plus the arts.

Wilner and other parents across Dallas now have two weeks to decide the fate of the $1.6 billion dollars in bonds.

You can see a complete breakdown of the proposed bond program here. Additional information can be found here.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.