GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — A school board member is raising questions about how much and how soon students and taxpayers will benefit after the district leased a million-dollar piece of land for $50 a month to a non-profit.
“I don’t think that we should be in the landlord business – that’s part of why I voted against it,” said Steve Pryor, a board member at the Grand Prairie Independent School District.
The district bought the property, at 4202 Corn Valley Road, from the Texas Depart of Transportation for a million dollars in 2016. Grand Prairie ISD intended to sometimes park school buses and other equipment on the south side of the city. It’s mostly an empty lot except for a building with lots of garage space.
At its board meeting last Thursday, trustees decided to lease the million-dollar property for $50 a month to a group called the Vought Heritage Foundation that restores old aircraft.
The lease calls for Vought to also help develop classes for STEM students, though Pryor said nothing was ever specified.
“It doesn’t tell us what we’re getting from Vought, how many students are going to be trained, how often students will be there, and yet the majority of this school board voted to approve this deal without knowing any of those details,” Pryor said.
This is not about Vought, he added, it’s just ensuring the district doesn’t give away pricey property.
“The [$50] fee is nominal however the lease agreement allows for quite a bit of contribution from Vought Heritage,” said Dr. Susan Hull, GPISD Superintendent, at last week’s meeting.
But the entire board discussion lasted less than nine minutes before trustees voted to approve it. Pryor was the only one who voted against it.
Supporters of the plan argued that at least the district is making something off the land rather than continue to let it sit. But at the end of the five-year lease, the district will have earned $3,000 for property it paid a million to buy.
“It is more than the $50. We think the wealth of knowledge that is going to be provided by this collaborative from these individuals to our students is immeasurable,” said Sam Buchmeyer, district spokesman.
This week, Grand Prairie is trying to explain what students and taxpayers get out of the deal. It even produced a video promoting the partnership.
“We’re excited about GPISD providing a facility for us to continue our restoration efforts… and it also allows us to work with the students in GPISD who are interested in aerospace,” said Larry Skinner, Vought Heritage Foundation, in the district video.
Nancy McGee, Grand Prairie ISD’s STEM Coordinator, said about a hundred students, currently studying aerospace, will be able to learn from the aviation industry retirees who make up the Vought Heritage Foundation.
“I think our students will start as early as late March or early April so that they can get in there and get their hands dirty and get busy learning from these wisdomed [sic] professionals,” McGee added.
That might be wishful thinking.
The district said the building needs at least $50,000 of work before it can be used. “The building on that property needs to be made code compliant to conduct activities in it. The building can be used for storage now, but not activities,” Buchmeyer said.
Vought will pay for all the improvements, according to the lease.
“The [$50] monthly fee is simply one part of this relationship that improves our property at their expense, and gives our students a new, special type of classroom,” Buchmeyer added. “The Foundation will also pay all utilities for the property. In other words, our students will be trained by engineers and mechanics in a facility not previously used and the Foundation is paying us to do it.”
Grand Prairie ISD also told WFAA that it would change the language in the lease. As written now, $50 a month gets the group the entire 10 acres rather than just the building, as the superintendent said she intended.
But Pryor also questions why the group moved in equipment last summer, when the lease was just approved last week.
The superintendent allowed it, Buchmeyer said, which is compliant with district policy.
“As a school board trustee, I’m conflicted," Pryor said. "I want great things, great opportunities for our students, but we also answer to the taxpayers and to the taxpayers we have to explain we bought a piece of property for almost a million dollars and we’re leasing it for $50 a month and we don’t know how many kids will benefit."