Sunday, May 6, 2012

They Call Me Bond - Hugh G. Bond

There's a school bond issue gearing up for the vote around these parts.  Actually there are two.  And one non-bond that I'm going to throw in for comparison.

The large local district is trying to get voters to approve a $40M bond to tear down the old high school and build a new one in its place.  The thinking is something like this: the school is in bad shape and will be expensive to bring up to current standards.  So let's skip that and just build a new one.  That will be wonderful.  The political argument being put forth in favor of this is: our school is ranked in the bottom 1% of Texas schools and our local economy sucks and the entire county is shrinking at an alarming rate and all of these problems will be magically fixed by building a new high school.  If you're like me, you're laughing at the non-logic of this argument.  The economy sucks so let's burden taxpayers with higher property taxes.  The school isn't teaching kids what the state says they need to know and this will be fixed with a fancy new building.  The county is shrinking but if we build it they will come.  The slogan of the campaign is: Vote YES for Lamesa.  Vote YES for kids.  Vote YES for Lamesa ISD bond.  Oh. my. gosh.  Did they really summon "But think of the children!" to this issue.  YES they did.  I'm not so sure the bond will pass, though.  In every issue of the local bi-weekly newspaper for the past month there's been a pro-bond full page ad and there have been 2 anti-bond full page ads plus a half page ad and a quarter page ad.  But to help secure the bond, the school district has "generously" offered to host early voting IN THE SCHOOL that's being voted upon rather than in the usual City Hall location.  Hmmmm.  Something's rotten in the state of Denmark.

One of the smaller local districts is also floating a bond before voters.  Theirs is a much more reasonable $4M bond to build a new collegiate sized basketball court/gym and weight rooms and locker rooms.  Because a school with 200 students (total - that's pre-K through grade 12) desperately needs a THIRD gym.  Yep, you read that right.  They already have two gymnasiums, neither of which will be shut down.  They also have a new weight room and locker rooms at the new football stadium across the street that was paid for with the LAST bond, which won't be paid off for another 12 years.  That's right, the previous bond won't even be paid off until this year's kindergarten class graduates, but the school desperately needs another one to build that third gym because the first two just aren't up to scratch for the basketball teams anymore.  And besides, two gyms aren't enough to meet the needs of the various athletics teams that need them for practice.  Some team or other is always being left out in the cold (specifically, the general PE kids are always being left out in the cold - literally - because during winter, aka basketball season, the girls' team works out in one gym and the boys' team works out in the other, leaving the general PE kids to either watch movies in an empty classroom during their physical education time or to run laps outside in the snow).  The argument for this bond is: but it's only $4M which is hardly any money at all and besides the kids need a bigger gym because that will prepare them for college PLUS this will further put off when the district has to resume making "Robin Hood" payments to the state for being a "wealthy" school district.

And now, for comparison, let us consider the proposal of a third small local district.  Their enrollment has been growing (as more and more kids are pulled from the big district by their parents and moved to a district where little Johnny might get taught to read) and their building is wearing out.  The school board's proposal is to use already allocated capital funds from the county (the county sets aside a certain percentage of their budget to be divided equally among school districts in the county to be distributed any time a district requests them for capital improvements - ie buildings and long-term equipment like buses but NOT educational materials like text books or classroom furnishings) along with the district's own "reserve fund" (aka SAVINGS) and, utilizing local contractors, make the repairs needed to bring the building up to standards.  They don't need to go to the voters about this because they're not asking the taxpayers for any money.  They're using money that's already there and designated for just such instances.  They're not planning any athletic facilities.  These improvements will be made to the science classrooms, the ag classrooms, and the social studies classrooms.  The intent of the improvements is to increase safety and improve structural integrity.

Guess which of these districts I would send my kids to if I were forced to put them back in public school?  Yep, the third one.  Even though it's the farthest from our home, makes the least effort to be "accessible" to out-of-district students (ie no "transfer" bus runs to town to pick up out-of-district kids that attend), and has a reputation for an "aloof" and "snobby" student body.  They boast no exceptional athletics programs and offer very little in the way of "options" to students, not even the options I personally value.  By way of "enrichment" they encourage participation in state-sponsored (and funded) programs such as academic UIL.  But at least they respect the taxpayers in their district enough to not burden them with additional taxes for things outside the purview of the public school.  And they respect their students enough not to burden THEM with bonds that the students will be paying for long after they graduate.

For the record, I only get a vote in the first bond proposal I mentioned.  And I think you can guess how I'm planning to vote.  I would vote the same way if my kids attended the school in question.  In the words of one of the anti-bond ads, "Surely a school originally built to house 900 students can be refitted to serve 400 for something less than the cost of building a multi-million dollar sports stadium."

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