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03/11/03 - Canton

Schools' Debt On The Rise

The cost of building new blackboards is putting schools in the red. More and more schools are spending more and more money, they don't have. A new census report out says, nationwide, distrct debt is nearly $202 billion. East Texas schools are adding to that total while trying to teach arithmetic in better classrooms.

"This is one of our older buildings on campus," said Canton Superintendent, Larry Davis.  Davis has worked at C.I.S.D. for more than 30 years. His memories of this place go back farther. "When I was going to high school here, this was our varsity gym."

He says the buildings which make up Canton Junior High have seen better days. Floors and walls no longer match up in some places. Which is why Davis and the Canton School Board have called for a $15.7 million bond election to build a new junior high.

"It's just like a home. Would you own a house if you didn't have a note?"

The bond would more than double the distrct's total debt. A $6 million bond helped build Canton Intermediate just two years ago. Davis hopes that building can serve it's students for another 70 years.

"There's just no way in a school district to generate enough revenue, extra, to provide for those things. You know, we have a very difficult time generating enough revenue from our tax base to have school."

Canton is not alone in increasing it's debt. Just last December, Longview voters approved a $6 million bond package - not for new buildings, but to pay old bills. And nationwide school debt is up 13 percent, while spending has also increased 7 percent. Texas leads the country with a total of $25.5 billion in debt used to construct and renovate schools.

The question of whether this high level of debt is good or bad for Texas schools is still open to debate. After all, the teachers and students at Canton Intermediate are convinced this was money well spent.

Stephen Parr, reporting.

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