Trustees sink swimming complex deal

Concerns over the timing of using $5 million toward construction of a natatorium, which would be owned by the YMCA, led Hays CISD leaders to sink an agreement that could have allowed the district use of the facility.

The move, which came as a result of a 3-3 tie with President Merideth Keller abstaining, closed a vitriolic portion of Tuesday’s board meeting that was rife with confusion and argumentative discussion.

While the agreement isn’t entirely dead, James Finck, YMCA of Austin president, said failure of the agreement makes “it more complicated.” The district could bring the item back up at a later date.

“I don’t want to be in a position to say if you don’t do it tonight, it’s done,” Finck said. “It does complicate the matter quite a bit.”

The agreement, which was discussed June 19, would call for the district to spend $5 million from the fund balance toward construction of a natatorium, or swimming complex, at YMCA’s proposed Camp Cypress.

Per the agreement, Hays CISD would have a 30-year lease of the 25-yard, 10-lane complex.

However, Trusteees Esperanza Orosco, Vanessa Petrea and Teresa Tobias, who voted against the agreement, all were concerned about the use of monies for the facility.

Tobias was concerned about the timing for the facility and what the district is working on currently. She also felt the district should adhere to the needs of the community.

She cited feedback she and other school board members have received in the week following the June 19 discussion, along with reaction on social media to the facility.

Petrea, whose motion to indefinitely postpone the item Tuesday failed, was concerned the district could run into budget issues following the end of the 2017 legislative session. Petrea said it was “appalling” Hays CISD students don’t have a better swimming facility.

But she felt the district must focus on items that affect the whole child all day, every day. She also cited the district’s lagging State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores.

Orosco’s concerns centered on using fund balance monies for the facility. She said she was in favor of using fund balance to pay down the cost of Hays CISD’s $250 million bond, which was passed in May. Orosco said some board members “were in complete disagreement with me and were adamant” the district shouldn’t touch fund balance monies.

“I’m concerned that at this time, we’re saying, ‘let’s use $5 million out of fund balance,’ when we didn’t entertain use of $1.9 million to bring the bond package down,” Orosco said.

She added the $5 million would “do a lot to propel” academics, programs, facilities and “be more competitive with charter schools that are coming.”

Orosco also believed the district could outgrow the natatorium during the course of the 30-year lease.

Board trustees Holly Raymond, Bert Bronough and Willie Tenorio all advocated for the facility.

Raymond was initially frustrated after the discussion about the facility was handed to Tobias, who is the board vice president. Keller said she was abstaining from voting on the matter, but didn’t give a reason from the dais for her abstention. According to the Austin YMCA website, Keller is a member of the Hays Community YMCA board of managers.

Raymond was also involved in a back-and-forth discussion with Orosco on what was said regarding fund balance use. Raymond said she felt Orosco was using her previous quotations and discussions against her. Raymond said she wasn’t in favor of using the $1.9 in fund balance during the bond discussion, as it pertained to maintenance expenses.

“I’m not excited to spend $1.9 million for maintenance,” Raymond said. “If we’re talking about educating our kids, let’s talk. If we’re talking about giving teachers raises, let’s talk.”

Raymond believed the facility could do more than house the district’s swim teams, which she said was “icing on the cake.”

She cited the ability to teach first graders lifesaving skills as part of YMCA’s Project Safe program.

Raymond said teaching children to swim could build confidence in children. While there are concerns the district is focusing on athletics, Raymond said sports, such as swimming, is a way to build “soft skills,” such as leadership.

“Having played basketball in high school, I learned more from being on the team than I did working through the drive-through at Burger King for three years,” Raymond said.

While Bronaugh said the district’s job is to educate children in order to prepare them for life in society, UIL sports are one way the state educates the whole child.

“I’m in favor of this because it’s going to be helpful for the entire student body for the next several years, and it’s a good partnership with the YMCA,” Bronaugh said.

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