Skip to comments.School bond formula faltering - (worried school construction companies campaign for votes)
Posted on 09/18/2005 1:50:38 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Winning enough votes for multimillion-dollar school building programs used to be easy for school districts that followed a few simple rules:
Schedule the election on a day when there's nothing else on the ballot, ensuring low voter turnout; Hit up school construction companies for campaign donations and spend the money on big newspaper ads and yard signs; Use school buildings for polling locations and encourage teachers and parents to vote. It worked perfectly for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District's $713 million bond election Dec. 11, in the middle of the holiday season. School construction companies and other Cy-Fair vendors gave more than $70,000 to Citizens for Cy-Fair Bonds. Voter turnout was 4 percent, and the measure passed handily with 75 percent of the vote.
The people who run the Spring schools did all those things before last weekend's vote on a $385 million bond proposal that included eight new schools, a competition swim center and a laptop computer for every high school student. It would have cost the typical homeowner an extra $100 next year and $200 the year after.
But when the ballots were counted, Spring ISD voters had handed the school district a lopsided beating by a 3-1 ratio. Voter turnout was 10 percent, high for a bond election.
Texas educators took notice, and some worry it's the start of a trend in which angry voters give themselves the property tax relief that state lawmakers promised but haven't delivered.
"Unfortunately, we don't think it's an anomaly," said Sarah Winkler, president of the Alief school board and the Gulf Coast Area Association of School Boards. "They didn't get any tax relief from the Legislature, so we're the ones who will suffer. We're pretty sure we're going to have a problem."
School boards across the state felt insulted last month when Gov. Rick Perry ordered them to begin spending 65 percent of their money on "direct classroom instruction," which doesn't include items such as transportation and teacher training, Winkler said.
"The average voter thinks they don't need any more money," she said.
And state lawmakers made passing school bonds more difficult by requiring school districts to hold future referendums on general election dates in May or November, Winkler said.
"You'll get a higher turnout of very conservative voters who are concerned about taxes, and you're going to have a harder time passing bonds," she said.
Saw rejection coming
Spring school officials blame their bond's failure on two things: voters in upscale neighborhoods with no school-age children and high property taxes, and local state Rep. Debbie Riddle's lobbying efforts against the proposal.
Former Spring trustee Rickey Bailey, who chaired the committee that proposed the bond election, said he saw the rejection coming.
"I saw people in my neighborhood (whose) children are now out of school, and they had signs in their yards saying no higher taxes," Bailey said. "I believe that you need to take care of your community, and the best way you can take care of your community is by having a good school system."
Tom Matthews, who expects a Spring ISD tax bill for nearly $9,000 on his $460,000 home, said he created Homeowners Against SISD Bond Propositions Inc. to pay for those yard signs because taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth. The group spent nearly $8,000 through August countering nearly $13,000 worth of pro-bond ads bought by Parents Advancing Spring Schools, which was funded mostly by school construction firms.
"Homeowners are saying school districts have to make a choice," Matthews said. "They can't fund every nice wish and dream that they want."
Riddle, a Republican from Klein, said she opposed the bonds because taxes already are too high.
"This bond election was, I think, conceived with blatant disregard to the taxpayer," said Riddle, who had two children graduate from Spring's Westfield High School.
Taxes may be too high, said school board President Mel Smith, but that doesn't change the fact that Spring needs more schools to accommodate a student population that is growing beyond projections and now stands at 31,000.
Matthews said his campaign against the Spring bonds has emboldened others to fight referendums in their communities.
"My group has already had calls from four different school districts across the state," he said.
The experience with the bond vote in Spring is making a handful of other area school districts La Porte, Galena Park, Pearland and Alvin a bit more nervous about their own scheduled bond votes.
"Any time you see something like that, yes, it would cause you concern," said Rob Roy, a La Porte parent who created Patrons for LPISD Bond 2005. A school architectural firm helped him fill out the paperwork establishing the political action committee, which has collected more than $7,000, he said.
Roy is spending the money on advertising aimed at gathering enough votes Saturday to pass three bond propositions worth a combined $203 million. La Porte, a district of about 8,000 students, wants to build two elementary schools, new buildings for agricultural science, technology and transportation, and provide more computers, including laptops for some sixth-graders. Renovations also are planned for older schools.
"We have school buildings that are in dire need of work," Roy said.
"I'm optimistic the voters are going to the polls saying this is what La Porte needs."
No visible opposition
Wayne Oquin, president of the Galena Park school board, said he's confident voters will see the need Oct. 1 to borrow $85 million for new schools, a health clinic and compu- ters.
Friends of GPISD, a political action committee, has collected more than $41,000, primarily from technology and school construction companies, to campaign for the bonds. Unlike Spring, there is no visible opposition to the Galena Park referendum, Oquin said.
In Spring, voters should be ready for another election soon, Smith said. But it won't be for the same amount of money. "The next one will cost us more," Smith said.
Below is a school district in Texas that got it right and their success put them under the court gun.
When the court threatened to block student transfers, teachers began working to help families set up homeschooling.
Two school districts embroiled in racial tug of war (this one has it all: choice, naacp, money tug) ***...[LINK in Post #1] ***....Bienski doesn't deny that Mumford relies on the state aid it receives for the transfers, but he insists that has not been the secret to the school district's recent success. Mumford has been successful, Bienski says, because it does more with less.
There is some evidence of that.
Bienski serves not only as the school district superintendent, but also as the principal of all three campuses. When the district began its aggressive building campaign in 1997, Bienski served as the general contractor, saving the district millions of dollars. The district owns all three campuses outright.
The school district stocked its computer labs by taking advantage of grant programs. When it launched its high school a few years ago, it focused on academics and avoided costly athletic programs such as football. ....***
Looks cheap. And with the explosive growth in Chicago suburbia, I can't imagine what it is down there! My beef is with the over-the-top extravagance of the buildings. Inlaid oak flooring and brass hardware, etc. Spending thousands on what should cost hundreds. Ever wonder why districts complain they have no money for teacher salaries?
Teachers' unions will fight this tooth and nail and their best buddies, the Democratic Party machine, will fight with them.
But the people are stronger than these groups. It's beginning to show.
Parents are getting hip to bogus "My child...." bumper stickers.
They don't like it when their child needs remedial reading, writing and math in college.
They don't like superintendents getting $200K - $300K salaries and thousands more in benefits.
They don't like fancy schools with incompetent teachers manning the classrooms.
They don't like LIBERAL politics and social instruction invading their schools.
I could imagine the uproar from "parents" about that! Any disruption of athletic schedule is a sin. Loss of music or foreign language...not a peep.
When money is tight, you go for the basics and do sports on the side.
I don't see one word about kids of immigrants overwhelming the school districts in this border state, so I guess it's not a problem. The problem seems to lie with those uncaring, heartless, mindless, childless, rich suburban folk in their $400,000 homes who vote "no" on the bond issues.
C+ huh? That's "C" for...cool?
LOL. I don't know.
Maybe C for clueless.
***.........Under No Child requirements, districts must inform parents about the free tutoring, but many skirt the rules by sending letters "laden with the usual bureaucratic jargon," wrote Harvard University professor Paul E. Peterson in Education Next magazine.
The motive: If parents deep-six the letters and ignore the program, districts pocket the unused money. "They have a clear financial disincentive to encourage student participation," Peterson wrote....***
What kind of idiots would elect a school board that would even propose this kind of garbage?
Only the insane would take out a 30 year loan on something that will last only 2 or 3 years. I'm referring to the computers.
If the voters are not held responsible for the decisions of the school boards, then why even vote?
Well? Private individuals and businesses MAINTAIN their buildings and BUDGET and PLAN for maintenance costs as part of the life cycle costs of owning the buildings.
Have you ever noticed all government officials start harping on the need to repair government buildings and the requirement for more money so that they can do so? Why didn't they maintain them in the first place? I particularly love the statement we hear time and time again that the school buildings are OUTDATED. What's that mean other than that they want more money? Ever notice that in Europe, England and places in the US like Harvard and Princeton, they have buildings hundreds of years old and they are still in good shape but a public school (or any government building for that matter) becomes a dangerous and unmentionable monster after 50 years of occupation and must be torn down and rebuilt?
Another thing, when it comes to schools, why is it that all new schools have to be works of art and have huge buildings and areas dedicated to sports?
In Deer Park Tx, which is neighboring to Galena Park,the superintendent of teh district gets a $700 car allowance. It is a district of less then 50 square miles. He started the job driving a ford truck, I am told he now drives a jag.
Biased guess, but no cigar.
...." because taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth."
The real reason that bonds don't float by voters anymore. My own city school district has floated two bond issues in the past 5 years. One failed, the other did not. Now, the local newspaper is running a story about the city government doing a creative financing deal with the school district because the district is short of funds. I believe that when "Eve" took a bite of the "Forbidden Fruit", it had a National Education Association sticker on it.
I know. I read about outlandish salaries and perks - and usually it comes up when they're booting them out and having to honor their contract.
In Texas they have the Robin Hood system. "Wealthy" districts are tapped to help support districts with lower taxes - the "poor" districts. So the "wealthy" districts have to keep passing bonds to stay even with services they need and still be able to fork over money to the "poor" districts.
I believe TX had two special sessions this summer (I'm not in TX now) to sort out school financing. Of course the tax system is so convoluted and business didn't want to get soaked and LIBERALS wanted to keep soaking the other guy. So nothing changed and the homeowners are still stuck with the bill and being asked for more. They're hopping mad.
I'm with you on the extravagance of new buildings. Our school district has embarked on an ambitious plan (now 5 years into a 15 year plan) that essentially ensures that at the end none of their buildings are more than 20 years old. It's expensive, but with the transient nature of a college town, there hasn't been enough outcry.
On the issue of school population though, make sure they are giving you good numbers. Our town is one of the highest growth areas in PA, and our school district launched their building plan claiming they had seen a 20% growth in enrollment between 1990 and 2000. That was true, but the 90's followed the generation X years. What they didn't tell you was that they have NEVER reached the highest total enrollment they had at their peak in 1972. I got the data from the school administration office, and provided the data to the community in an editorial. They took a pause in their building scheme publicity for about 6 months, then said a review showed they really did need it because so many of their buildings had "outdated heating plants" and "leaking windows". They already have 3 more buildings than they did in 1972 for a smaller school population, yet they want to build, build, build. Our tax dollars at work...
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
In California they do that at the state level with the property taxes. My district is considered " above average" and yet, still must go to the voters with hat in hand. The poor districts? Well, they have to use their extra funds to pay for security rather than education. America needs to face the fact that her schools are a mess and get rid of the unions and the hippies on the school boards.
I think it might be.
And teaching in schools of education.
Ten years ago elementary schools in my town were being built for $7 million to $8 million. The most recently constructed elementary schools were in the $20 million range. But ten years ago they didnt see the need for glass elevators and architectural creations as monuments to the architect. The architects continue to specify obsolete and expensive media and electronics that isnt even used. The electronic media is so complicated a technician must be hired for each school to operate the stuff for the teachers. But so what, the architects get a percentage of the total construction cost.
Then on the three most recently constructed school the school board found a way to award construction contracts without competitive bids. The non-competitive architect set up a construction management company to act as general contractor and awards subcontracts to whomever they please. All three schools are 6 months late for completion and the school district now has kids on three campuses sharing space with contractors.
I wont go into how they justified this travesty, but needless to say it was all bogus. Needless to say the school districts are having a difficult time selling the idea of school bonds and resort to all the usual ploys in an attempt to get the bonds passed.
What Im describing is just the tip of the iceberg.