A few weeks ago I published this post about why I am in support of our school district’s $455.5-million bond proposal.
We are now 1 week out from Election Day and I am astonished by the chatter I am seeing online in a local community group. Now, I have not responded to the posts, nor do I plan to, but I’ll address a few things here.
A few of the most common comments/concerns:
“Why can’t we choose the individual items, rather than the lump sum?”
“They are going to spend it on what they want – that asterisk that says amounts are preliminary and subject to change means they can do what they want once they have the money.”
“It’s just a blank check!”
“Give it to us as line items for each project so there is accountability”
And these are just examples of the comments that aren’t blatantly insulting or downright nasty.
I completely understand the concerns. In fact – many of these were concerns of my own as I learned of this bond package. However as the parent of students in the district and resident, I chose to involve myself in the process from the beginning. The district was up front about the need for a bond and gathered information for months. In addition to the Facilities Assessment, a strategic plan was developed to determine the future direction of the district initiatives (with involvement from school and community stakeholders), and a Citizen’s Bond Committee was formed to review the findings and work together to present a package to the board.
I was involved in both the strategic planning and the Citizen’s Bond Committee. Not because I am an employee (I’m not), not because I am politically involved (far from it), but because I CARE about the schools my kids attend, and because I wanted to know more about this bond.
The committee itself was OPEN to the public. Anyone was invited to attend and take part. It was, to me, eye-opening to see the poor turnout. You’d think, as up in arms people are right now, that the room would have been packed at every meeting. But then again, it is easier to wait and point fingers, “we don’t know enough about it, you didn’t give us a chance to weigh in…etc., etc.”
We asked the same questions stated above. The majority of the group came away satisfied with the answers and with the structure of the bond.
Why don’t we present it as line items and let the people choose?
- Take a look at the proposed projects here. Now, pick the ones you want. Most likely, it will be the smaller ticket items, right? Trying to add up to less $. But what happens if the voters choose one-to-one devices for secondary students, but don’t choose to upgrade the computer infrastructure? Because the voters chose those items, now thousands of students would have devices the district can’t support.
- Or maybe you’ll choose to add the CTE center (since it enhances the educational options for students), but because it is so expensive you don’t vote for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing retrofits. So the district is forced to spend the money to build a shiny new building while boilers at the end of life fail and aging building throughout the district stay in disrepair?
And yes, I’ve heard, “why is the equipment failing? why don’t they have that in the general budget?” Well, you own a home. Tell me – do you have funds in your budget to replace your water heater? Your central heat/air system? How about your kitchen appliances? Is that something you just keep in the budget? Probably not. When these items start to approach the end of life (or simply give out), you typically have to go into debt for a few months or years (whether to a bank or credit card) and pay it off.
That’s exactly what the district does – just on a MUCH larger scale – they have 71 campuses with equipment. So as stewards of those facilities – they are doing what ALL school districts are forced to do – take out a bond package to fund these capital projects.
SO many of the comments I have heard are focused on the accountability of the district with regard to these funds. And that tiny little asterisk that says so much!
The asterisk is not there to give the district an “out”. Honestly if that’s the conclusion you jump to you may want to get that paranoia checkout out by a professional.
The asterisk is because the bond is comprised of projects that haven’t happened yet. Based on the assessments and research, there is an estimated dollar amount for each item. Example, to replace the boiler at XYZ middle school it will be an estimated cost of $X00,000. But without replacing it today, there is really NO WAY of knowing how much that same boiler will cost when it does finally need to be replaced. Who knows where the economy will be 3 years from now, and what will happen to the price of goods and even the price of labor. The estimates provided are conservative estimates based on what we know now. So take that boiler and think about ALL the other items in the bond. Without a crystal ball, we don’t know exactly what each item will cost to the penny, hence the estimate and asterisk.
If there wasn’t an asterisk and due to the economy the boiler cost $5 more than what is listed in the bond, you guys would be the first to scream, “NO you can’t buy that boiler!” So the district has rightfully disclaimed that these are the best estimates, but prices could be different.
So how can we keep the district Accountable? Well that goes right back around to being INVOLVED and ENGAGED. It is up to the Board of Trustees to take action on bond monies and projects.
Remind me…who votes on the Board of Trustees? oh, right…you and me.
Who can attend meetings of the Board of Trustees? anyone (whether you vote or not)
Who can speak publicly at meetings of the Board of Trustees? again, anyone can address the board
So if you want Accountability, then be involved. It’s really that simple.
The proposed increase for this bond is LOWER than the tax rate in the district from 2001-2006. The tax rate has gone down steadily since that time, but after 12 years a new bond is needed to fund these capital projects.
Even if you have little to no understanding of business or bonds or finance, it really doesn’t take much to understand that if we want our communities to continue to grow, this bond package is necessary!
I’ve said this once, but will reiterate: The bottom line is our district has aging facilities that need updating. That will not change without putting money back into them. The district population is stagnant – too many area school districts have chosen to vote for their bonds and invest in their facilities and state of the art programs. If we want GISD and our the communities of Garland, Rowlett and Sachse to continue to flourish, we must do the same.
Garland ISD Bond 2014 – VOTE YES! It’s KEY!