As the campaign on the school bond wraps up, it is appropriate that I post a final note. It is no secret that I have moved from looking at the bond to outright opposition, including formally filing as Treasurer of the STEER Pac on the issues. Early voting has ended with much higher than expected numbers, the newspaper editorially has "gone dark" on the election, nothing remains but actual election day this Saturday.
I started looking at this being dubious of the amount dedicated to the new Central. On this end, I find the amount perhaps excessive, but much lower on the list of reasons to vote "NO". STEER holds that SAISD does need money for improvements, but not this bond. We are confident that if this bond fails another will be proposed, one we hope will be so modified as to deserve support. Our students will not graduate spelling cat with a "K" if the May 12 bond fails. STEER hopes defeating this bond will improve city-wide education in the long term. The following is a list of primary reasons we want a complete review of the bond.
Planning: The planning was poor, both in design and potential conflict. The three year effort by the Task Force was essentially flushed when the Board ignored parts of the Task Force recommendations at the same meeting it passed ballot language which amounted to very few restrictions on design or payment. Only in the last days of the "educational" effort on the joint Huckabee/SAISD were we shown even rough sketches of the new schools. The same firm contracted to do the architecture for new schools was given the job of evaluating existing schools, which study is available. At a standard 6% architectural fee, Huckabee has about 8 million reasons to skew any subjective measure towards demolition and new construction. We do not accuse Huckabee of anything unethical, SAISD hired them for both jobs, but the mindset is questionable.
Maintenance: Many of the highlighted items of decay are things a homeowner or retail shop would have dealt with years ago. Flaked paint, underlying rust, structural rust, uneven sidewalk segments, green plumbing, all are the sort of problems which have been evident for years and the sort of thing the average homeowner deals with all the time without calling in the bulldozers. STEER does not blame the maintenance staff, which SAISD reduced by 50% beginning in 2001. Until we have guarantees of better maintenance in the future, pouring more money down an existing rathole does not strike us as a good investment.
Trust: The Board wraps this bond in the work of the Task Force. First, that "citizens' group" was originally 70 members with 25 at most being public appointees, the balance being SAISD Admin personell. That division was evident as deliberations progressed. As mentioned earlier, the public members largely rose up in revolt after the March 3rd meeting. Then, the same meeting when Huckabee gave its ethical standards presentation, the channel 4 cable-cast of that meeting was edited on the direct authority of the new superintendent. This is no minor item; former Board President Terry Bader was unable to get a necessary second for his request to review that editing and thought it so serious he resigned just to make that a public issue.
Options Closed: Despite the obvious lopsided growth in San Angelo, the board refuses to consider any plan involving changes in attendance zones (well, except when it suits them as in Holiman, Bradford, and San Jacinto) for high schools. There is a deep suspicion, supported by some responses on the Huckabee website, that no option was ever considered that did not keep Central as a sole 5A football team. Considering an early promise that "none of the money would be used for athletics, except for basic needs", the list of athletic "basic needs" at the new Central amounts to about $15 million, or the total amount spent rebuilding all of Lakeview. It took two weeks and three inquiries to get anyone in admin to discuss that figure. Twice, I was blown off with blatherskite about the difficulty of separating athletic costs from academic, which I translated as "we are really embarrassed by this number". This bond is seen as exacerbating, rather than addressing the Lakeview/old Angelo division in SAISD.
We need an open facilities review that does not regard existing buildings as disposable while treating attendance lines as carved-in-stone.
Early voting was exceptionally strong. We predicted early on that a large turnout favored defeat of the bond. If you have not voted, please do. In this case, a "NO" vote on this bond is actually a vote FOR better education in the long run.