Sunday, September 28, 2008

School Board Bond Blitz

A week after the Bond facilities committee finally formed up and promised a "blitz" of informtion to encourage voters to vote "yes", and BTW, 37 days from election Tuesday, we finally see the opener: a quarter page ad, page A-8 of the Standard-Times. Excuse me if I am underwhelmed.

Whichever version of God one believes in, He must have a strong sense of irony. Directly above the SAISD quarter-page ad for the bond is a picture of Board member Art Hernandez selling funeral plots/tombstones. One can hope this accidental confluence of events is not predictive.

This week's economic news does not bode well for any tax increase. I have a record of opposing new taxes, including a decade-long losing battle against the half-cent sales tax. Ironically, after three wins, I lost the last round of that fight to Dr. Brian May, head cheerleader for this bond. Dr. May, I'm on your side this time, feel free to chime in at your convenience.

This bond is a tax increase I can, indeed must, embrace, and it has been many years since my kids were in the system. Last time, SAISD deserved to lose, as they did, for the first time in San Angelo's history. It took them too long, but they really have digested that loss and gone 180 degrees from that bond. Long-term maintenance still needs firming up, but it is vastly better than the system that helped defeat the last bond. Kudos here to people I criticized last bond, Steve Van Hoozer and James Elson have done more with less in a shorter time than I would have believed three years ago.

I know we are in a time of economic uncertainty, but we have seen worse and lived to prosper. The original Central High bond was passed during hard times and drought. It turned into a model school that school systems followed nationwide. We are not putting forth that degree of vision now, we are looking to maintain a basically good system.

If you think we have been poorly served by past or existing school boards, get out and un-elect them. I am asking you now, this November, to give our students the basics. This is not a Taj Mahal bond, it is a down to the nuts and bolts needed bond.

We have spent this summer almost $10 million in addition to regular upkeep, I have personally seen a lot done. We are still WAY behind on ADA (disabled) compliance, something a court could order at any moment. I am talking to teachers who tell me about, shall we say "aromatic" bathrooms that incline one to look for a nearby tree, heat and AC that makes "climate control" a rude joke, and sidewalks or other access that make it difficult for disabled students to overcome.

This bond is NOT bells and whistles. It is basic to a functional system, and honestly, less than the system needs to get back to first-rate. Please, find it in your hearts to provide our kids a decent place in which to learn.

I know you get the tax bill as a combination of city/county/SAISD, but don't confuse the items. School tax, as in most places is top, but schools are expensive enterprises, private or public. I remember an 8th grade class in NC with 65 students and that was the "gifted&talented" appropriation.

Let me give you my vision of good schools. The buildings should be at least adequate, class size down to something that allows personal interaction between student and teacher, and access to the net that almost replaces the library. I say almost, because I am old enough to remember and hold to the love of holding a printed book and reading it at my convenience.

Ballinger, Ballinger for the love of God, is giving its high school students laptops. No, I am not denigrating the fine town of Ballinger, I am praising them. You want an incentive to stay in school and graduate (and a possible reduction in textbook cost, that is currently being adjudicated), give each freshman a laptop, if they graduate, it's theirs to keep and upgrade. Rough cost, $2 million a year, not that big in a $100 million budget, and hardware cost is rapidly declining. The social cost of drop-out students is demonstrably higher.

Frankly, as tight-fisted as San Angelo voters claim to be, they have paid little attention to the high item on their tax bill. We finally have a superintendent I honestly believe has more interest in the district than the next job or San Diego football games. Carol Bonds walked into a mis-directed bond she had no input to, and no choice but to support. The Board has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into an entirely different bond from that which failed. A lot of people have worked hard to present this bond, credit especially to Lorenzo Lasater. Please, overlook the speedbumps and vote "yes" Nov. 4.


  1. I just wanted clear something up. The ad that was in the Standard Times was not part of the Facilities Committee "blitz". That ad is one of a series of "facts-only" informational ads placed by the school district itself. As far as I know, the "blitz" by the Facilities Committee has not begun yet.

  2. I'll post a comment, here, that I sent to the SAISD.

    I can look out past my back yard. I see the largest house in Champion's Circle. I estimate is value at around $500,000. Let's just call it $1,000,000. The house is massive. What the district is asking for, just with Proposition 1, equates to building roughly 117 of these "mansions". Try to picture that.

    I love kids and believe that they deserve a great education. However, there is just no way in "Hades" that people are going to accept what many believe to be the continued fleecing of America. Where are these estimates coming from?

    The district has roughly 14,000 students. That's over $8000 per student!?

    Now, you can tell me that the State is funding part of this, but that's really deceptive or ignorrant. The State HAS NO MONEY. They never have. They fund nothing. EVERYTHING is funded by the taxpayers.

  3. Mr. Coyne; I take your point that the state has no money, in fine theory they don't really. All gov't expenditure has one and only one source; OAP I call it, or Our Ass Pocket.

    I have argued long that corporate taxes are a fiction, corporations don't actually pay taxes, they pass the cost in overhead to their customers and at some expense, forward that money to the state, feds, whomever.

    In practise, as regards our property tax bill, the state has a LOT of money, and Existing Debt Allotment, EDA, is still substantial in our SAISD budget. Source is still OAP, but on this item, we come out winning. Can't say I'm proud of the system that makes it so, but Midland, Houston and Ft. Worth taxpayers will help pay for these improvements. We have helped build enough of their roads, schools etc., I don't really feel guilty about it. The game may be crooked, but it's the only game in town.

    Your figure of $8,000 per student is in the right range, but this expense and expenditure will be spread out over 25 years. It will not be collected or spent in a single budget year.

    I gain nothing personally here. My youngest step-child attended the old Lincoln, one reason I so strongly supported the '96 bond. I'm not on the payroll. I sacrifice OT hours to make these meetings. I have been attending bond-related SAISD Board meetings since I was opposing the last one, something no one else not on the board can say.

    Yep, the timing, as I predicted, is horrible. With everything else, the temptation to holler, "I'm mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore", is almost irresistable, but I've wheedled, cajoled, and chastized this Board into what I honestly think is a reasonable bond.

  4. Mr. Coyne, you miss a very important point about the mansion you see. It is built to home construction standards and would likely not last more than a couple years as a school. The carpet that has a lifetime guarantee for home use is likely rated for 5 years or less in a commercial setting. Any commercial construction, such as a shopping center, school or government building, costs much more than home construction.

    The sources for the estimates are studies the school board had done prior to the last bond. They were done by Dr. Oates and Huckabee and Associates. Most of this information is on the SAISD website in the maintenance section under the various facilities and revitalization plans.

    It's not cheap to build and maintain schools.