A Midway Independent School District facility study committee recommended Tuesday that the school board call a November bond election for $177 million that would address the needs of the growing school district.
The bond package as proposed includes building a new elementary school, eliminating intermediate schools and repurposing the buildings, and renovating Midway Middle School.
Committee members said the major concern for the Midway district is growth, with student enrollment projections adding more than 2,000 in 10 years, committee representative Carly Webb said.
Midway’s enrollment is 8,088. In 10 years, enrollment is expected to reach 10,700, and that is a conservative estimate, committee representative Scott Bland said.
“We’re not getting any smaller, and this is not going to get any cheaper,” he said.
As proposed, the bond issue would increase taxes by $7.19 per month on the average Midway ISD home, valued at $226,000.
“That’s about a Starbucks a month,” Webb said.
The committee recommended eliminating intermediate schools that serve fifth- and sixth-grade students, converting Woodgate Intermediate School into an elementary school and converting River Valley Intermediate School into a middle school. Middle schools would serve sixth through eighth grades, and elementary schools would serve prekindergarten through fifth grade.
The committee members said eliminating intermediate schools aligns with the state curriculum and encourages stronger relationships between students, staff and families because students would not change schools as often. The new grade configurations also would result in less commuting for families and more opportunities for students to participate in extracurricular activities.
Realigning the grades and, therefore, the schools moves Midway closer to “getting back to the neighborhood school,” committee representative James Karney said.
School board president Pete Rusek said trustees would hold workshops throughout the summer to digest the information presented by the committee and hammer out the details of a potential bond package, if that is the direction in which the board decides to go.
The deadline to call for a Nov. 5 bond election is Aug. 19.
Most of the $177 million bond proposal constitutes construction costs to build the new elementary school and convert the intermediate schools. The bond issue would set aside $148 million for construction that would also include additions for career and technology programs at the high school.
Other costs include:
“We were united in this being our proposal,” Bland said of the facility study committee. “What it means is you have 40 people in the community who are going to be championing this, if you guys decide to move forward.”
The planning process for this bond proposal began in 2017, when the district distributed a community survey seeking input on ways to improve Midway ISD. The district received 1,725 responses from various community members, parents, alumni, students and business leaders.
The facility study committee began meeting bimonthly, starting Oct. 4. Members made recommendations based on the survey results, a demographic study and a plethora of research, including visits to schools.
Webb said the committee sat down together and distilled the information before them down into what was most important to address the district’s growth.
“We have to say as a community this is important and this is worth $70 a year,” she said.
Bland said his concern is the bond is not big enough, given Midway’s expected growth.
“We are at the limit for what I think we can ask the community to do right now,” he said.
The recommendations include making the athletic facilities more secure and building separate locker rooms to segregate grade levels. Some schools are bursting at the seams, with teachers resorting to tutoring in the hallways at South Bosque Elementary School, Karney said.
“Growth is coming, and it’s not going to go away,” he said. “It needs to be addressed. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at portable buildings on all the elementary campuses.”
Webb added that portable buildings do not expand cafeterias, gyms or libraries, so they are only a temporary solution.
“Midway ISD is getting dangerously close to being essentially like an inner-city school, and passing this gives us the capacity to put schools back in the community,” Bland said. “Midway has become very impersonal. It’s gotten so big, and our kids are just crammed together.”
Jessica Dugan’s life has not always turned out like she had hoped.
Growing up in Dallas the daughter of an alcoholic father, the 29-year-old Dugan dropped out of high school to get married at 18. That marriage lasted six months.
Her second marriage also ended in divorce. Her 8-year-old son was taken from her by state child welfare workers and is living with a relative. She has not seen him or talked to him in more than five years.
Her first daughter was born while Dugan was addicted to methamphetamine and abusing alcohol. She arranged for the girl to be adopted. Her third child, a girl named Serenity, is 2 now, but Child Protective Services workers also took custody of her for a time in 2017 because of Dugan’s continued substance abuse and homelessness issues.
“That was it for me,” Dugan said. “That was rock bottom.”
Dugan is in a much better place now. She went to rehab, kicked drugs, spent time in a Waco recovery house called Sunshine Recovery House and proved to a judge and CPS officials that she was ready to regain custody of Serenity. On June 3, Dugan will celebrate two years of sobriety.
Like hundreds of families that came before them in the 25 years Compassion Ministries of Waco has been giving homeless families a leg-up, Dugan and Serenity have lived in an apartment at the nonprofit since May last year. Theirs is in Hope House, which the nonprofit opened in 2002 to double its capacity to 52 beds.
“This place has just been a safe, really stable environment, which is a big change from where I was, you know?” Dugan said.
She said she is grateful for the opportunities given her at Compassion Ministries to turn her life around.
Dugan is now general manager of Luna Juice Bar, which has a shop at 1516 Austin Ave., a block from Compassion Ministries, and a truck at Magnolia Market at the Silos. She also serves on the board of directors at the Sunshine Recovery House, which is operated by her friend and owner of Luna Juice Bar, Summer Shine.
Compassion Ministries will celebrate its silver anniversary with an open house at 5 p.m. Thursday at its office at 1421 Austin Ave. Supporters can tour the office and Hope House, which has 12 private apartments for families accepted into the program.
Jill McCall, executive director and the guiding star behind Compassion Ministries since 1999, said officials also will reveal the contents of a time capsule that was sealed 15 years ago.
“This organization has seen a lot of change in 25 years, but we have consistently been able to help homeless families over all that time,” McCall said.
She is also eager to talk to supporters about Compassion Ministries’ fundraising campaign. The program stopped receiving federal funding more than two years ago and has raised $4.5 million of its goal for a $5.5 million endowment fund to help keep the transitional housing program going.
“There are just not enough spaces, places, beds for families with children in this area, and if Compassion was lost, there would be a real void in this community without it here,” McCall said. “If you look at what compassion does, it is not just a place to stay. It is a program that teaches responsibility and accountability, hoping that all those who complete our program are going to be self-sufficient for the rest of their lives.
“It all goes back to the old saying, ‘You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or you can teach him how to fish and feed him for the rest of his life.’ That’s what we are doing here.”
Besides the stability of the Hope House, Dugan also said she appreciates the classes offered by Compassion Ministries volunteers in life skills, budgeting and other important matters. They helped Dugan fill out applications to enable her to become the first resident to qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home while living at Compassion Ministries.
That is another way to help combat what many have said is a lack of affordable housing in Waco, McCall said. Many two bedroom apartments are in the $800 to $900 range for monthly rent, while a Habitat home can cost about $485 monthly, she said.
Dugan is required to devote at least 100 “sweat equity” hours as a volunteer at another Habitat home before Habitat volunteers will start on her home, she said.
Compassion residents are required to stay clean and sober, are drug tested and must find jobs. They pay rent to Compassion on a sliding scale and are reimbursed for half the rent they paid when they leave to get them started in a new place and have a bit of a nest egg in case of emergencies.
“Jessica is a person who never thought about getting her credit cleaned up or ever dreamed that she would have a home, never dreamed that would be possible, and here it is, ripe for the taking for her,” McCall said. “We like to say that we are providing hope, help and housing for homeless families.
“We are not just giving them a place to stay. We are giving them tools to put in their tool box to become self-sufficient for the rest of their lives.”
Compassion Ministries started after conversations in 1993 between five pastors of downtown Waco churches about ways to help Waco’s homeless community. It was incorporated a year later, and McCall, a former juvenile probation officer who has directed the tremendous growth in the nonprofit, became executive director five years later.
An old motel was razed at 1401 Austin Ave. in December 1999 to make way for the space now occupied by Hope House, which has served as transitional housing for more than 800 families since 2002.
Larry Perez, Waco Independent School District’s longest-serving Latino board member, announced his resignation Wednesday, two days after board president Pat Atkins announced he would resign.
Both Perez and Atkins have served on the board since 2002. Perez cited health concerns as his reason for resigning, while Atkins said he was resigning due to moving outside the district’s boundaries.
“Some of you have known for some time that I have been having health issues,” Perez wrote in an email to trustees. “It has gotten to the point that I have trouble doing the job that I was trusted to do for our school children. For this, I regret that I must resign immediately due to my health.”
Perez’s current term representing District 3 would have expired in May 2020. His resignation means the board will have to fill two vacancies as it also searches for a new superintendent.
The board will consider the resignation letters of Perez and Atkins at its Thursday meeting and discuss how to fill the vacancies. The board meets at 6 p.m. at the Waco ISD conference center, 115 S. Fifth St.
State law and board policy allow the remaining board members to either fill the vacancies by appointment until the next trustee election in May 2020 or call for a special election in November 2019.
Thursday’s board meeting will be Perez’s last.
“I’m honored that voters in South Waco trusted me to represent them for nearly two decades,” Perez said in a news release Wednesday. “When I was first elected, some families in our community told me that the district didn’t listen to them. As a school board member, I set out to change that. With every decision, I asked what it would mean for kids in South Waco. I made sure that our voices were heard.”
Perez used this approach when the board considered the projects to be included in the 2008 bond program, according to a Waco ISD news release. The district’s original facilities plan prioritized numerous projects over the construction of a new University High School, but Perez told his fellow trustees at the time that the people he represents would not support a bond election without the new high school.
After Perez’s comments, the proposed bond package was reworked to include the construction of a new University High School, the news release states. Voters approved the $172.5 million bond issue in May 2008, and the new campus opened in 2011.
“When I walk through the halls at University High School today, I see more than a building,” Perez said. “By 2008, the old University High campus was in terrible shape. Kids take note of those things. It had gotten to the point that the condition it was in made it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn. The new campus tells students that we value them and are invested in their success.”
During Perez’s tenure, the board also faced decisions about how to close a $3.4 million budget gap after state legislators cut $5 billion in public education funding in 2011. Ultimately, the district closed nine campuses but avoided large staffing cuts or eliminating programs, according to the press release.
“That was difficult,” Perez said. “We knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to shortchange students by laying off teachers or getting rid of programs. In the end, many of our campuses were underutilized, and the best solution was to close about a quarter of our schools. It wasn’t ideal, but at least if kids were going to have to move campuses, they wouldn’t be missing out on opportunities.”
Interim Superintendent Hazel Rowe said Perez has been a strong voice for all students and their families, not just the students in South Waco.
“Over the past 17 years, he has volunteered his time, investing countless hours in our schools and in our community,” she said. “A generation of students have already benefited from Larry’s leadership, and generations to come will have better schools and more opportunities thanks to his vision for Waco ISD’s future.”
A rookie Waco police officer was cleared of criminal wrongdoing Wednesday in the March shooting death of a man who police said stabbed a Waco man multiple times outside a hotel.
A McLennan County grand jury determined Waco police Officer Claire Van Wolfe acted properly when she shot and killed 50-year-old Lorne Kyle Ashmore on March 1 outside the Deluxe Inn at 1430 Interstate 35 south frontage road. Grand juries routinely review officer-involved shootings as a matter of procedure.
Reports state Van Wolfe, who started with the department in June, and another officer were sent to the hotel on a disturbance call.
Van Wolfe, 22, encountered a man, later identified as Ashmore, who was threatening hotel residents with a knife and trying to force his way into another person’s room, police reported.
Ashmore was given repeated commands to drop the knife before he ran into the street behind the hotel, police said. Another man, described in reports as a 57-year-old whose address is the same as the hotel’s, chased Ashmore into the street.
Ashmore then approached a car with a woman and children inside and started pulling on the door handles, police said. The other man tackled Ashmore, and Ashmore stabbed him multiple times, according to reports.
Responding to the knife attack, Van Wolfe fired at Ashmore, hitting him a number of times. According to a preliminary autopsy report, Ashmore was hit in the neck, torso and left arm. The preliminary report does not state how many times he was hit.
The stabbing victim was treated and survived his wounds, reports show. Ashmore also was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Van Wolfe was placed on administrative duties the night of the shooting as part of normal department procedure after an officer-involved shooting. The Texas Rangers investigated the shooting.
Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said he appreciates the work of his department’s special crimes unit, the Texas Rangers, the district attorney’s office and the grand jury.
“This was a tragic event, but the grand jury agreed that the officer followed state law during this critical incident,” Holt said. “The family of the suspect, the recovering stabbing victim and the officer involved will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.”
A Hewitt police officer who exchanged gunfire with a suspect during a February bank robbery will not face criminal charges, but the suspect will, a McLennan County grand jury decided Wednesday.
The grand jury no-billed Clint Brandon, the first officer to respond to the bank robbery at PointWest Bank, 420 Hewitt Drive, on Feb. 5.
Police have said the suspect, Dallas Scott Bohanan, 25, of Waco, shot at Brandon when the officer tried to stop him from leaving the parking lot, and Brandon returned fire. Neither man was injured in the initial exchange, but Bohanan later fired a shotgun at Brandon, wounding the officer’s arm, police said.
As a matter of routine procedure, cases in which officers discharge their weapons are reviewed by a grand jury. The Texas Rangers investigated the incident.
“I fully expected (the grand jury) to clear him based on the evidence that I observed out there, but we use the Texas Rangers to conduct an investigation,” Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said. “I had confidence in the fact that (Brandon) was correct in his decision-making, acted lawfully and fully within the scope of his duties.”
Last week, Bohanan pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of bank robbery using a deadly weapon and three counts of discharging a firearm during the commission of a violent felony for robberies of PointWest in Hewitt and of Santa Fe Community Credit Union in Temple in 2016. He was also indicted in a 2016 robbery of Chase Bank, 320 N. New Road in Waco, but federal prosecutors agreed to waive that count as part of the plea agreement.
He will be sentenced on the federal charges in September and likely faces up to 55 years in prison.
As Bohanan left the bank in Hewitt, Brandon ordered him to show his hands.
Bohanan pulled out a firearm and fired at Brandon, Devlin has said. Brandon took cover and returned fire before Bohanan was able to flee the parking lot onto Hewitt Drive.
Brandon followed Bohanan, who then stopped his car and stepped into the roadway, police said. Surveillance video from a nearby business captured the roadway encounter, showing Bohanan shooting a shotgun directly at Brandon, injuring him with shotgun pellets in the arm.
Commanding officers told Brandon to stop chasing Bohanan and seek first aid as others continued the chase. Bohanan was later captured in a Waco neighborhood, where he crashed his pickup truck near the intersection of Garden and Wingate drives, police said.
“I am extremely proud of (Brandon),” Devlin said. “He is a great example of what we expect from our officers, not only because of this incident, but because of the character he has and the work he puts in, prior to this incident and continuing after.”
The grand jury also indicted Bohanan on Wednesday on state charges of first-degree felony aggravated assault of a public servant and third-degree felony evading detention.
Bohanan remains in custody at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, authorities said.