Frustration abounds in an east Texas school district over who will pay for a nearly half-million dollar high school football stadium jumbotron that administrators recently pitched and the board of trustees approved to purchase out of school bond money until taxpayers pushed back.
District officials say private donors will fund the Friday night techno-lights but they remain tight-lipped in naming the beneficent backers.
At the April 17 Spring Hill Independent School District board meeting, Superintendent Steven Snell and Athletic Director/Head Football Coach Kelly Mercer presented a $490,526 jumbotron package to trustees. The Nevco Scoreboards crafted 20-by-32 foot digital display would include a 7-by-10-foot electronic marquee to broadcast announcements and district highlights, reported the Longview News-Journal.
Snell said the funding came from a refinanced 2008 school bond, purportedly with zero interest. In 2008, taxpayers voted for a $41 million measure that set aside money for new schools and technology. Two years ago, the board approved routing $2.5 million of those taxpayer dollars to the district’s Panther stadium for upgrades like installing new bleachers, artificial turf, and widening the track to meet University Interscholastic League (UIL) specifications.
“I know that is a whole lot of money for our community to absorb, but the one thing is, we can do it without mortgaging our future,” said Snell about these fixes. “And the other thing, it gives us a centerpiece for our entire campus to be proud of.”
That budget did not include a jumbotron. Still, at the April board meeting, Snell said he would not have brought this proposal to the trustees if he did not think the expensive LED display would pay for itself. He proposed selling space to local businesses for scoreboard and marquee advertising. The Longview newspaper noted Spring Hill ISD rakes in about $24,000 a year from its current billboards. Snell anticipated the scoreboard could be a money-maker, bringing in four or five times that dollar amount.
Last year, Seguin ISD’s Superintendent delivered a similar plan, but they shelled out $1.35 million for a state-of-the-art Nevco jumbotron system, Breitbart Texas reported. No one knew how the district intended to pay for that mega-display. This morphed into a lawsuit filed by four incoming board members concerned taxpayers were getting hosed. However, a district spokesman insisted the marketing plan, developed with Nevco, would allow the system would pay for itself through regional and local advertising plus sponsorships, as Breitbart Texas reported. The superintendent pledged if the district could not secure enough advertising dollars, they would find another way to cover the expenses.
Back at Spring Hill ISD, board members voted 6-to-1 for the expensive scoreboard. Only trustee Karen Wright voted no. “We’ve got to go back and review what we promised our taxpayers before we take on something that has not really even been out there,” she said. “A lot of people don’t even know that this is happening.”
An uproar ensued as people learned about the scoreboard. Taxpayers disagreed with the board’s decision made without the public’s input, especially because it was not a bond budgeted item. One exasperated district parent told Breitbart Texas, “Our property taxes are the highest in the state.”
Two days later, and, likely as a result of taxpayer pushback, the plans changed. Breitbart Texas received a text from the same Spring Hill ISD taxpayer who asked to remain anonymous. “Good news. The school board is not going to use the taxpayer money for the scoreboard. They are using money from private donations instead.”
On April 20, KETK reported Snell planned to release the scoreboard benefactor names the next week. No such announcement happened. Instead, he asserted board policy dictated that trustees first have to vote to accept private funds and nullify their previous vote to use bond money for the scoreboard. He said if they hold a press conference, it will be in late May. Breitbart Texas attempted to contact Snell. He did not respond to our media inquiry.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.