School Board, CHRISTUS complete land swap

Stained glass cross

Two Pleasant Grove institutions with eyes on the future finalized a land swap that will for decades strengthen both.

The Pleasant Grove School Board Tuesday signed papers to give 4.3 acres of its 12-acre elementary campus at Richmond Road and University Drive to CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital. In return, the hospital gave the school district 12 acres on which to build a new elementary at the northwest corner of Christus Drive and Galleria Oaks.

That sets off a chain reaction of events, both long- and short-term.

Money, time saved on new school

Just next week, a citizens committee will see preliminary plans from Lewis Architects for a new elementary school financed by a $19.9-million bond issue approved by voters in May. Instead of spending time on site acquisition and development, the district can soon plan a groundbreaking ceremony.

“Just in site development alone, that property will save us a quarter-million dollars,” said Superintendent Jason Smith. “It’s ready to build on. We could put a bulldozer out there today.”

The hospital plans to raze most of the old school building –sparing the district that cost – but the newest wing, 30 classrooms built in 1996, and eight surrounding acres – will be turned into a vocational education center. The district has squirreled away dollars for that project and it will be financed out of the general fund, not bond revenues.

High school expansion forestalled

When finished, the vocational center will free up at least 100 student-spaces at the high school and accommodate up to 200 more in coming years.

“One hundred student spaces is a whole wing,” said Dr. Smith. “Thanks to this, we won’t have to expand the high school for decades.”

Eyes on the future

As part of the deal it made with voters in the bond issue, the district sold off a potential elementary site near Texas A&M-Texarkana University. That land was donated, so the sale netted $1.2 million.

That money was initially targeted for land acquisition for the new school, but now is being held in reserve. PGISD owns 18 undeveloped acres on the north side of the high school and has its eyes on a contiguous tract of 15 acres. The board would like to acquire that and, in 10 or 20 years, build a middle-school campus, track, and baseball-softball complex.

“This is a great community partnership with St. Michael,” Dr. Smith said, noting that the CHRISTUS Healthcare System will benefit too. In time, the old school site will become a prime commercial property.

“As A&M continues to grow and Richmond Road develops, these are going to be major thoroughfares. It may be 10 years or more before they realize the benefits, but they were thinking about the future.”

Teacher raises coming

Looking to draw teacher salaries closer to those in Texarkana ISD, the board reviewed several scenarios from Director of Finance Derick Sibley. Each would increase salaries by 16 percent over five years, by 3 percent in each of the first four years and by 4 percent in the fifth.

Starting pay in Pleasant Grove is $35,600 and tops out at $52,950 after 25 years. On the other side of I-30, teachers start at $39,000 and top out at $53,865 after 25 years. In addition to the $3,400 gap in starting salaries, TISD provides numerous stipends, including $4,000 a year for secondary math and science teachers. 

At the urging of Board President Fred Meisenheimer, Sibley ran the numbers to see what would happen if the district eliminated the first five steps, essentially paying beginning teachers the same as those with five years of experience.

That approach would cause expenses to outpace revenue by $159,000 after three years and by $620,000 after five.

Keeping the step scales in place would leave the district in the black until the fifth year when it would face a $26,000 operating deficit. Under that plan, teachers would start at $37,500 and reach $57,814 after 25 years.

Board Member Lorie Son asked Sibley if he felt comfortable that the district could financially manage that outcome.

“That’s really a small difference,” he replied. “We could come to that.”

Dr. Smith said he was confident the board would soon resolve the issue.

“The board took this on as an initiative several months ago,” he said. “Our teachers deserve salary increases and it is only going to help Pleasant Grove recruit great teachers.”

Honors abound

High School journalism teacher Charla Harris was saluted as the winner of the Journalism Educators Association’s H.L. Hall National Yearbook Advisor of the Year. Asked to attend the meeting by Dr. Smith, she was shocked when doors at the back of the meeting room were swung open to reveal her husband, friends, professional colleagues, former students, and last year’s winner walking in with the award.

Mrs. Harris has served as the advisor to the school’s newspaper, yearbook and broadcast programs for 33 years and is widely recognized as one of the best journalism educators in Texas. The yearbook this year won National Scholastic Press’ top honor, the Pacemaker Award. This marked the third time it has won it under her leadership.

“Thank you so much,” she said, choking back her emotions. “I never thought this would happen to me.”

The board also saluted Tori DePriest, a vocational/technical teacher who sponsors the Showstoppers Squad and this year started a leadership program, PG Tribe.

Six students were honored as Citizens of the Month: Marcus Deckard from Pre-K-four campus, fifth-grader Teresa Gardner, eighth-grader Ellie Coker, freshman Audrey Fritz, middle schooler Lauren Hornsby, and sixth-grader Josiah Perron.


Comments are closed.