Alpine ISD Board of Trustees held its regular meeting on Feb. 19, and heard from a McDonald Observatory representative.
During public comments, Bill Wren, a fervent dark sky advocate from the observatory, addressed the board about the district’s plans to add new LED lighting at the elementary school. Wren argued that the proposed fixtures were too bright to comply with dark sky ordinances, and proposed lower wattage.
Wren later told the Avalanche there were problems with lighting at the middle school at the new bus barn, and that the City of Alpine was aware of the issue. He said that upon review of the lighting specifications from the contractor, Fort Worth-based Aquila Environmental, they failed to comply with the city’s dark sky ordinance.
In a statement issued on Friday, Superintendent Becky McCutchen said, “Our lights are in compliance with the currently approved ordinance. Aquila Environmental was aware of the ordinance, and did follow the guidelines. The ordinance states all our lighting fixtures shall be full cutoff fixtures. Per the manufacturer of the fixtures, the newly installed fixtures are full cutoffs.”
Next to address the board was Dallas Baxter, president of the Big Bend Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas.
Baxter stressed keeping the skies dark for birds, insects, and plants, saying, “We are so blessed to be out in Brewster County, and we need to keep this place special and dark. We can do that if we keep the light down. What a thrill for children in this school to know that their campus is helping the planet.”
In other news, Senior Architect Les Burke with the Midland firm Parkhill, Smith, and Cooper, presented an update on the high school construction project. He said that Kirk Hughlett, chief estimator for Lubbock-based Lee Lewis Construction, was contacting bidders, and Burke would later present information for the board’s review. He hoped to get the contracts completed in April, and projected the construction start date for the first or second week of May.
In other business, CFO Tucker Durhamdiscussed the 2019 preliminary state property value study in anticipation of the 2021 school year. Durham said that on total taxable values, local values were $612 million, but the state thinks the school district should be at $691 million, a $79 million difference. He said this would lower the district’s revenue this year, and the taxable revenue was 60% of the school district’s revenue, with the state providing the remaining 40%. He said the district has filed an appeal with the Midland tax collection law firm Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins, and Mott, who will go through a manual audit of the properties to assist with lowering the values on the state side.
Trustee, Dist. 6, Dr. Adrian Billings, asked if that problem was unique to Alpine ISD in comparison to neighboring school districts. Durham responded that previous district CFO Darrell Dodds had also dealt with the issue during his 16-year tenure.
McCutchen explained that the state required school districts to be within 10% of the revenue budget, or the school district fails.
Finally, McCutchen was pleased with the district-wide student enrollment, announcing that as of the board meeting date, total enrollment stood at 1,031, an all-time high.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting is set for Wednesday, March 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the Alpine ISD Administration Board Room.