Friday, April 13, 2007

News from the school bond front

The SAISD educational effort on the proposed school bond, includes under “Tax Rate Information” a very thorough analysis of tax impact of the bond. It does however seem to assume we will receive a state funded Existing Debt Allotment payment, the effect of which would reduce our tax liability for the new bond.

If one looks at the Texas Association of School Boards' “Funding School Facilities” report, the rate without the EDA appears to be the rate taxpayers should bear in mind on May 12. In order even to be eligible, a district (read SAISD) “must have made a payment on the bonds on or before August 31 prior to the start of a new biennium in order to receive EDA funding”. Go to the “Issues” section of the same 3 page report, and we are at the edge of a formula for funding.

Actually, EDA is a state program started in 1999 intended to assist low-wealth districts with EXISTING debt. It was not started to encourage extravagant bond issues, but to help low income districts which had fallen on hard times after passing a bond. We barely qualify for the low wealth side, and unlike a district having difficulty paying off a bond from better years, we are proposing to pass a brand new indebtedness and slough off part of it to the state, assuming the legislature rolls over EDA this term.

I quote from the TASB's own Issues analysis, “School districts hope for, but cannot be certain of, the extension of EDA funding for another biennium. Uncertainty makes school district fiscal planning and clear communication to the public difficult.” I have asked the website for a rendering of approved/unapproved applications for EDA, with a breakdown by dollar amounts. This could give us a ballpark range of our odds of winning the “EDA lottery”. I hope that as the hired gun pros on this bond business Huckabee might have handy the information I have not found...yet. I have discovered that Paris, Texas is getting very nervous about its EDA hopes on a $35 million bond scheduled for a May 12 election. In short, failing to pass the bond in May and make a first payment by August 31 would mean we have no chance for state EDA money this biennium, but passing the bond in May by no means assures we WILL get EDA funding. Also, should we tell the Board “no, you wish for too much”, and end up passing a slimmed down version in November, next session we can apply for help with our then existing debt, if indeed our circumstances qualify and EDA is again rolled over.

My advice to the voter now is, if you think the issues in this bond are worth an effective SAISD tax increase of roughly 35 cents, so be it, but do not bet the ranch on a state funded EDA bailout. I further advise the voter that in considering this bond as the recommendation of a three year Facilities Advisory Committee we should keep in mind, this is the first of three shoes to drop. The Long Range Facilities Plan envisions two more bonds of similar size to complete its proposal. The Board is reluctant to speak to this three phase plan, but voters should force them to acknowledge this reality of their own making. Long term, we are not discussing a $130 million bond, but phase one of a package that, with debt service, will cost taxpayers half a billion over thirty years or so.

For comparison, Midland ISD is putting a two part, $37 million bond before voters in a district with a growing enrollment. Their package adds to and renovates, the second part separates athletics from classroom building, and their superintendent assures voters this bond will serve Midland's needs “for the next 50 years”. How can that Be?! By SAISD standards, under which buildings start to crumble after 40 years, Midland (and presumably we) will be totally rebuilding in less than that 50 years.

On another posting on this Blog we offered an old post-completion 12 page booklet on Central titled “America's First Ageless, Campus Style High School”. A couple things are clear from it. The Central campus was designed to be flexible of use, but also to stand, with anything like reasonable maintenance, for a long time. Also, a great deal of planning and thought went into the design before the Board of that day approached a drought-stricken, hard times electorate. Today's Board makes much of the three year Facilities task Force work, but at the same meeting the Board voted formally to put the bond on the ballot, they flushed a couple of critical items from the Task Force's work. Only this week, barely a month before the election, are voters finally given a peek at some crude, rough draft concept drawings of what the new schools might actually look like if approved by an infrastructure-stricken, overtaxed already electorate. Compared to the Central proposal of the 50's with a clearly defined, truly visionary concept put forth, this last minute, back-of-the-envelope sketch is insulting to our intelligence. It amounts to “Give us a pot full of money and we'll build you, oh something with it, and if we're lucky, all this will actually be built before we hit you up with the next bond.”

SAISD does need a bond issue for very real building and renovation items. Like it not, and I don't, schools typically do “maintenance by bond” and our schools have physical plant needs, some left over from promises made but not kept in the '96 bond. SAISD does NOT need this bond, and the voters are justified in saying “NO” loudly enough to get the Board's attention. Then they can go back, and like any home or business owner on a budget, figure what they really need as opposed to the unaffordable McMansion on the hill they wished for on our nickel.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your analysis. It is amazing to me that the SAID can have the nerve to ask for an obscene amount of money when the enrollment is not growing and we still have a huge problem with water and sewer maintenence. Why would we build a huge new high school which will not be completed for several years for a student count that is diminishing? Our water issues are more urgent.