Saturday, February 02, 2008

To Dr. Bonds on the Bond (corrected)

The following was originally sent to Dr. Bonds, Dr. Brian May, chair of the new Facilities Advisory Committee, and SAISD Board members. The magazine mentioned is "District Administration. The article url is I held this to allow for comment by any recipient to be included. I have received polite "Thanks for the input" from Dr. Bonds and Dr. May.

We publish this in the hope it will encourage others to offer their opinions to the Committee. This Committee met last Wednesday, I do not have their next meeting date yet. For those unable to take off workdays, Chairman May's e-mail is mail is Box 10888, ASU Station, San Angelo, Texas 76909, Phone: 942-2027 x 283.

Open Letter to Dr. Bonds;

The link here is to an article from an educrat (pardon the term, I do not intend it to be negative) trade magazine we forwarded to the Board last time around. In case it has been forgotten, I think it worth another look. Mr. Vogel makes some great points and a lot of his advice carries over into ANY election, I pass this to candidates I support.

Point Four, the new Facilities Committee is a good start. The last one self-destructed publically and cost that bond more votes than our underfunded S-PAC dreamed of. I remember telling our first STEER meeting that defeating the bond would be a good start, but "if we knock it back by 10 points or more we will have the Board's undivided attention when we next speak to them." As I later said in my post-election autopsy of the bond published May 24, S-T "Doomed to fail", our opposition S-PAC was so much "flatulence in a hurricane", the voters simply were not going to buy that lump of coal. Dr. May's committee is small enough to be functional; I know many members by reputation, if not personally, strikes me as a good, representative body.

I think the decision not to hire another consulting firm is wise. Huckabee came in with a perfect track record, but frankly, looking over their prior clients, they had mostly represented districts where the bond would have passed with or without them. Presented with the company's first real challenge, they were, if anything, counter-productive. The Bond Awareness Survey poll was so transparently a "push-poll" that it worked against the bond. You may recall, I warned the Board about push polls, told them they resulted in candidates waking up on the first Wednesday past the first Monday in November and wondering "How did I lose?"

On the other hand, going back to the "How to Get Your Bond Passed" article, it emphasizes repeatedly, do polling. If you recall, when you met with Mr. Turner and myself, as we were walking from your office to your "wall of comments" I suggested that if you could convince the Board to fund it, you should put a genuine poll in the field ASAP. I repeat that now. Turner and I were discussing this yesterday, what about a joint venture having a good poll be a class project for some bright ASU statistics class? It is not that hard to put together an honest opinion-gathering poll. The tricky part the pros get paid mega-bucks for is "spinning" or "shading" polls tailored to the candidate paying the bills. Ask Hillary how much bang-for-the-buck she got out of South Carolina polling.

Point Three of the article; Motivate Your Friends, Ignore Your Enemies (and BTW I hope you know I am really not your enemy; more on that later). as this has wound out, SAISD is proposing to put this on ballot in November. I can hope this is not a fatal mistake, but politically, demographically, Poli-Sci 101, this is bad timing. Unfortunately, unless we can afford to wait for May 2009, it is what it is, no way we can be ready for this May. November is going to be unique in my lifetime. For the first time since 1952, we have a Presidential election with no incumbent, no heir-apparent VP running. I was on record six years ago predicting this as the most "interesting" election of my life. Now we are facing an economic "hard landing" (aside here, I think San Angelo will fare better than much of the country), never mind this little war in Iraq, forget the feminist/race split which may yet allow the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, for purposes of this bond we will probably see the highest turnout of my life INCLUDING a lot of, pardon me, geezers looking to protect their often fixed incomes. The money, the ads, the attention will be on anything BUT this bond...which should be the headline driver in its election cycle.

Who told you this was a good date? Gallegos, who still thinks more voter education and higher turnout would have sold the last Edsel? I play politics at at least a semi-pro level. I tell you now, the election date itself puts us in a 5-10 point hole before the starting gate opens, and I don't need a poll to tell me that. It can be overcome, but only if we are selling the customers (voters) something they are inclined to buy.

Going back to the Bond Awareness push poll; the last legitimate question on it was money, question 9. The breakdown was b) $100 million to $125 million, then c) $125 million to $150 million, then d) $150 to $175 million. The break point was (d) at which point the approval line graph glides like a brick into single digits. If you recall, I told the Board money was not the problem, recession or not, I don't think it will be the big item on next bond. Angelo voters are not that stingy, they had never turned down a bond before. Remember that old promo we dug up originally promoting Central as "America's First Ageless, Campus Style High School"? A visionary Board sold that bond in the middle of drought and hard times. Dr. Bonds, Dr. May, I tell you now, present a vision the voters will see as a good plan for the next 50 years, it can be sold, I'd love to get in there and help you sell a $140+ million bond. And yes, I remember, as Phase One.

I give you a couple other points I get from the last true poll, I think we called it an "election" . Board did at least break the issue into elementary and secondary spending. I knew the latter was dead, but I thought the elementary bond had a chance. Oops! It is obvious voters prefer the smaller, neighborhood model elementary school. The Holiman/San Jacinto/Bradford consolidation model did as much as the Crockett proposal to kill that Prop. Lamar works, the population there is dense enough it is still "neighborhood" at 600+, but when it comes down to shipping 6 year olds half way across north Angelo to Bradford, thank you very much, we'll pay a bit more to keep the kids in walking range. San Jacinto is my area, I am old enough to remember when that field on Pulliam was "Bobcat Stadium". I remember when Holiman was a state-of-the-art new school. BTW, the feature there of every classroom opens to the outdoors was a selling point used all over America then, it was going to make evacuation easier in case of fire or nuclear attack! Of course these schools need money and work, let's make sure we get it done.

I don't know the range of Dr. May's committee. I hope it is open to more than putting a new shine on the boots that got so badly booted last election. For a start, I advise you set up a link on the SAISD website for voters to offer their opinions to the committee. For the next few months, make a point of emphasizing at every opportunity that this is a committee open to public comment and make it easy for the public to comment. Yes, you will hear from all the tinfoil hats still camping out on the grassy knoll, but you will also hear from the good people whose wallets you are asking them to open. Remember the first point in my "Doomed to fail" autopsy; trust, the two edged sword. More than anything else it is incumbent on SAISD to regain that trust. Fail to do that, I don't care what the final package looks like, the voters are not going to trust you with 9 figures of their money.

It is not a deal breaker, but this Committee needs to give the three 4A high school model a good look. I'm far from the first person to suggest it, this has been out there for at least 20 years. Population has shifted southwest, that's definitely where young families and next generation's students will be coming from, we need to consider this demographic reality. The objection that 4A schools cannot offer the variety of courses available in a 5A school can be overcome IF we treat the district as a single entity rather than separate stand-alone campuses. One campus might offer the Voc-Ed curriculum, another perhaps the G-T program, perhaps Arts & Drama at Central with its lovely Bernhardt theater. Of interest to those who live and die by athletics, last year, UIL ruled that even if a student physically attends all classes in a "magnet" school outside the normal attendance zone, for extra-curricular purposes, that student may play football, tennis, swim or cheerlead or whatever where he/she lives.

OK, that ends my letter to Dr. Bonds. I have been promised the Committee is open to and desires public input. The schools still do need money for renovation and certainly some new construction. They will have to put together a proposal by August to make the November ballot, and the earlier they get it, the more likely any idea can be worked into that bond. Voters and parents, the ball is in your court, speak up.

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