By Frank Williford –
Saturday May 10th is general election day for the Peaster $7,000,000 School Bond. I received notification of this election in the mail today. Early voting has already started, yet I am unaware of any public forum in which taxpayers have had an opportunity to engage in a question and answer session with school board members or the school district superintendent. Certainly I did not receive a mailing notice of any such session.
Therefore all I can do is look at the election notification and try to understand why seven million dollars additional debt is justified. The mailing makes repeated reference to Texas HB-5 as the source of requirements that will be satisfied if the bond issue is approved.
While it is true that HB-5 is a very large piece of work, it is also true that it focuses attention on academic standards and the means by which students will be prepared for higher education and/or vocational schooling that will specifically lead to “in demand” vocations in the workforce. HB-5 is broadly focused on four key components:
(4). Higher Education
Graduation from high school is predicated on a revised curriculum which contains a number of electives in the fields of mathematics and the sciences. It is apparently assumed students with an early vocational objective do not need a high level of math and science while students aspiring to a more rigorous university program will be guided and counseled into the necessary electives. This seems to be a reasonable approach. Only 1 P.E. credit is required for graduation and much emphasis is placed on keeping the students in the classroom and not finding reasons they can be excused. All of this sounds quite positive.
There are a couple of interesting things alluded to in the information mailed out to voters. There is apparently a surplus of one million dollars in the interest and sinking fund allotment. This is money intended to go towards the payment of interest on and retirement of existing debt. In a carrot and stick approach the information shows how this money could be utilized to keep annual taxes at a stable rate for two years after they are increased by approximately 4% in the 2014-15 school year. There is no guarantee the money will be deployed in this manner. Even more striking is the absence of any discussion about how taxes are projected to vary after the 2016-17 school year. Once the million dollars is gone (assuming it is used to delay tax increases) what will be the subsequent tax rate rise going forward?
The school board apparently has approved a number of potential expenditures once the bond package is approved and the debt issued. What are these expenditures? The information mailing references them at least in part:
Twelve new elementary school classrooms and an activity gym (whatever that term means) are needed to meet the new standards of HB-5. More parking spaces will be added presumably because more classrooms mean more teachers. More classrooms are a good thing, an activity gym is questionable since only one P.E. credit is required for graduation from high school and we are talking about an elementary school which already has a very nice gym. Replacement of carpets and wall coverings are also cited, items which should normally be covered by operating funds and not long term debt which will still be pending when once again these items need replacement.
An addition to the agriculture barn and greenhouses is being proposed. FFA programs are a good thing, but I have looked at HB-5 and I cannot find the requirements the mailed brochure references. While students from a predominately rural environment can indeed gain benefit from FFA knowledge, it is difficult to ascertain how this line of study relates to the university studies and high demand skilled jobs HB-5 specifically addresses.
HB-5 strives to ensure more classroom time and the opportunity for willing students to engage in additional advanced studies. It rings hollow that so much attention is being given to sports facilities and concession stands. Upgrade to a concession stand must be something really major if it requires a tranche from a bond issue.
Technology upgrades. What does this mean? Technology is a roiling wave phenomenon. Chances are pretty good whatever is being contemplated will be outmoded long before the debt issued to pay for it is retired. “The State is moving towards digital textbooks” is the reasoning given for the technology upgrade. One should note the state is busy reviewing and approving paper textbooks even now, books which will be used for the next five years at a minimum. Is it wise to invest in a technology that will not be much used for years, if at all?
In all likelihood some new buses would be welcome. But according to what is being said the new buses will be paid for by increased debt yet the maintenance savings will be from operating expense. Where and how will this savings be applied? Is it possible the savings will be utilized to help retire the debt which gave rise to the savings to begin with?
Demolition of the old brick building should be at minimal cost since there are companies that will do the work for salvage value of the materials recovered.
In conclusion the voters and taxpayers should be given realistic answers as to why such a large sum of money is being requested and not just “HB-5 requires it.”