School funds to help pay for area museum
It's fairly common knowledge that the Port Aransas Independent School District each year sends most of its tax revenue - millions of dollars - to poorer school districts and education service centers, according to requirements of state Robin Hood laws.
What's not as well known: At least $500,000 of the Port Aransas money has been earmarked to help build an $8 million children's museum planned in Robstown.
The Region 2 Education Service Center (ESC) in Corpus Christi is planning the children's museum at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds in Robstown.
ESC officials spoke about the museum at a meeting of the Port Aransas Independent School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, July 18. Regional 2 ESC Executive Director Linda Villarreal made a presentation on a variety of ways that money from PAISD helped fund ESC functions during the 2006-07 school year.
Texas' 20 education service centers were created by the Legislature and the State Board of Education in 1967. The centers provide professional development, certification, cooperative purchasing, telecommunications computer services and other services for nearby school districts. The Region 2 ESC facility serves 42 Coastal Bend school districts including PAISD.
While Robin Hood laws force property-rich school districts like PAISD to share millions of dollars in tax revenue with poorer districts, the law also allows rich districts to share some money with Education Service Centers.
PAISD Superintendent Billy Wiggins has worked out contracts during the past two years guiding hundreds of thousands of dollars to school districts in the Northeast Texas communities of Simms, Clarksville and Texarkana; and also with two education service centers - one in Northeast Texas and the other with the ESC in Corpus Christi.
Wiggins said he worked out the contract with the ESC in Corpus Christi because he wanted to provide some benefit to PAISD after the money leaves the district. The Corpus Christi ESC helps Port Aransas schools by providing teacher training and other services.
The $500,000 going toward construction of the children's museum came from PAISD's tax revenue last year.
This year, PAISD expects to bring in about $17 million in tax revenue, according to Brian Schuss, business manager at PAISD. About $12.8 million of that will leave the district under Robin Hood laws, Schuss said. That leaves PAISD with a 2007-08 budget of about $6.2 million.
(The PAISD Board of Trustees approved the budget and set a lower tax rate during a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 30. See story, Page 1A.)
Wiggins said he expects about $2 million of the money that PAISD gives away this year to end up in the coffers of the ESC in Corpus Christi. It's possible that some of the money will be devoted to the children's museum, but the ESC has not decided yet on specifics for how its next influx of Port Aransas money will be spent, according to Villarreal.
It was in October 2006 that Nueces County commissioners reserved three to 10 acres of land at the fairgrounds in Robstown for the children's museum, according to a written ESC report provided to PAISD trustees.
Construction on the structure is scheduled to begin in summer 2008. No opening date has been announced.
Villarreal said the ESC is working on acquiring state, federal and private foundation grants to fund much of the museum's $8 million price tag. In an interview on Friday, Aug. 31, she said she wasn't sure exactly how much money had been raised.
As envisioned, the museum will be designed at first to benefit children ages 3 to 5, but slightly older children could later be included in the target audience, Villarreal said.
The museum is expected to include exhibits on space, health, rainforests and Antarctica, Villarreal said. Many of the exhibits will be interactive, she said. An exhibit with life-size dinosaur replicas will include a big sandbox where children can dig for dinosaur bones, like real paleontologists.
The museum's mission will be to benefit children from throughout the Coastal Bend, including Port Aransas, Villarreal said.
The museum also will include a large room to be used for teacher training, Villarreal said.
State law allows the ESC to use Robin Hood funds only for certain purposes. To that end, the ESC will use Port Aransas funds "for development and implementation of the technology infrastructure" at the museum, according to the ESC report.
"Technology infrastructure plans have not been finalized but will include the cabling and wiring to support the computer and communications network which will support interactive exhibits," the report states.
"In addition, the network will also support museum educators as they provide curriculum aimed at improving school readiness, and therefore student achievement, in pre-kindergarten children in Region 2," the report says.
"When the museum is completed, it will be showcased as a regional, statewide and national model of improving school readiness through the use of interactive teaching strategies," the report says.
The $500,000 in PAISD money that the ESC designated last year for the museum was part of a total of about $1.6 million that PAISD provided to the ESC during the 2006- 07 school year.
The ESC used most of the non-museum money - about $1.1 million - to fund purchases of computer technology with various benefits to Coastal Bend school districts, according to the ESC report. Benefits included enhancement of teacher training and curriculum development.