Despite concerns over the coronavirus, Barbers Hill ISD feels it is best for its $277.5 million bond election to stay in May.
Barbers Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole told board members Monday he was on a conference call with other superintendents around the state talking about elections and bond issues.
Poole said he felt it was imperative for his district to continue to shoot for a May 2 election. He stressed there was no action item on moving the elections, just discussion.
“The biggest concern seems to be, even though we have a choice, is that you need to make sure it is an authentic process, which we certainly would,” Poole said. “The only way it would run afoul if someone raised an issue and said only 20 people are voting or something. I am going to commit to you that we can get a better turnout than our last bond election.”
In 2017, Barbers Hill called for a $120 million bond, the largest in its history at that time. A total of 86% of the voters supported the bond, which included a new Early Childhood Center for Pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade students.
Poole explained why having the bond in May was a better plan.
“Absentee voting is a remarkable tool,” he said. “Unlike the horror stories I have heard where districts argue with the clerk, our County Clerk, Heather Hawthorne, said, in her exact words, ‘I am a Barbers Hill Eagle. I’m here. What do you need me to do?’”
Hawthorne said the ruling is a state law allowing qualified voters eligible for early voting to vote by mail if they have a physical condition or sickness that prevents them from voting in person.
“(Under this code), if you have issues you feel that would injure your health, you are allowed to claim a disability and vote by mail,” Hawthorne said. ‘We are trying to give another option if the stay-at-home order is still in effect, we want to make sure voters still have a way to get a ballot.”
Kenny Kathan, Anahuac city manager, said his city, as well as Anahuac ISD, has decided to move the May 2 elections to November.
Barbers Hill called for the bond referendum in January. The district was aiming for a May 2 election with early voting beginning April 20. The COVID-19 crisis has caused concerns for districts with bond issues on the ballot.
Gov. Greg Abbott had issued a proclamation March 18, allowing local governmental bodies to postpone May 2 elections until the general election Nov. 3.
“We need to have the election in May. We believe with absentee voting, we can get the vote out,” Poole said. “Our goal is to have a successful bond. And, our goal is to have more voters than the other elections, or at least as many. The risk is minimal.”
Poole emphasized he is not advocating for a yes vote on the bond.
“What I have studied in letters and PAC meetings is while we are dealing with safety concerns, we’ve had 25% growth in kindergarten,” Poole said. “We have to start digging the day after if we pass a bond election. Forget the political election consequences. That is not the primary driver. The primary driver is safety. I’ve said before, we are not going to have portable buildings. And even if the growth slows down, we will still have a need.”
Board member Eric Davis asked if it was true the bond, if passed, would not result in a tax increase.
“There is absolutely no tax increase,” Poole said.
Poole said while health is a major issue with the election, oil prices are another. Oil prices rose 5% Tuesday to more than $28 a barrel, according to Offshore-Technology.com.
“Saudi Arabia and Russia are trying to get the price to go way up,” Poole said. “It could slow growth down, and that could impact jobs, layoffs, as well as growth. We’ll be watching it closely, but we are in great shape. I am convinced we’ll end up stronger than ever.”
Poole added the district’s theme is “we are going to rise to the occasion.”
“Obstacles are opportunities,” he said. “This is one, and we are going to grow stronger, but do it in a loving, strong way.”
Huge student participation for distance learning
On another item, Poole was happy to announce the district had 99% participation on its first day of distance learning.
“We are known for many things, and I am very proud we are known for excellence, but we are also known for finding the best solutions,” Poole said. “There will be positives out of this type of situation.”
Poole thanked Director of Technology Kristin Davis and her staff for making sure as many students in the district received a Chromebook. She said they handed out more than 1,200 to students.
“Here is the key – she never approached this saying, ‘woe to us,’” Poole said. “I think applause is deserved for Kristin and her group.”
Davis said one Chromebook was given for every two students with a family of three receiving two laptops. Special needs students received a Chromebook adjusted for them, Davis said.