Sunday, September 14, 2008

School Daze and Dollars

Note: This was published in the Friday edition of the Standard- Times. With permission, I replay it here.

In May of '07, I was the S-Pac treasurer for a group in opposition to that school bond. Prior to that, I had supported the '96 bond.

I will go straight to the point here, forget the flowery language: the school bond on November's ballot is crucial to San Angelo's future. People, we have high fuel prices, we have a substantial bump in water rates, we have something still out there on stormwater unfunded mandates, Yes, it seems like every time we turn around, the government is dipping its hand in our wallet.

I know this. I am not easily persuaded to any tax hike. I am a long time from having a child in the system. I did not oppose the last bond on money, but the direction of the money. Where it would have closed, moved, and consolidated students into mega-schools, this bond preserves and improves existing campuses.

“Portables”, ie trailers, will be replaced by permanent buildings, existing buildings will be brought up to ADA requirements, we will have enough lab space to comply with state mandates for science curriculum. This is not the last bond with “lipstick on the pig”, it is 180 degrees from it. Your elementary kids (Holiman, San Jacinto Crockett etc.) will still be able to walk to school.

One does not have to love the SAISD board to vote “yea”. I have been out in front pointing out policy and tactical errors. This bond would have had better odds had it been presented last Nov. with less competion for public attention. Had it been passed then, it would have bought 15% more real improvement for the dollar, a figure that gets worse by the day. The best I can say here is that the Board finally took to heart a devastating defeat and decided to listen to the voters. In the words of Mark Twain, “First God made idiots; that was for practise. Then He made school boards”.

That is a bit unfair, I have come to know members, and they care, they have been misdirected. Part of that is our fault; we the voters did not make our voices heard until it was too late. San Angelo has never been stingy when it comes to education. We passed the visionary Central High in times of drought and hard money. The last bond was the first time in history local voters turned down a school bond.

I know we are flying in the face of tax payer fatigue. We don't have many chances to stand athwart history and say “NO”. I am telling you, I have kept up with SAISD issues, I am begging you, anyone who gave me credibility on the last bond election, please, trust me, this is not a good time for a taxpayer rebellion.

A dozen years ago, I wrote here supporting the '96 bond and responding to a Cookie Roberts column in opposition to that bond. Stealing a line from my column of 12 years ago, this a “Pay me now, or pay me later” moment, and paying later will not be cheaper. Had Ms. Roberts' view prevailed in '96, Lincoln students would be attending in a building older than I am, and God only knows where we might be cramming in 700 Lamar students.

Locally, realitistically, this bond vote is as important as any decision we will make Nov. 4. Conaway will be our Congresscritter, Texas' electoral votes will go to McCain, that decision will be made in Michigan or Florida, or somewhere, but this bond vote will be ours, and ours alone.
Our childrens' education is as important a part of the city's infrastructure as streets and pipes, long term, possibly moreso. Right now, with all the other items on the ballot, this gambler puts the odds about 20% against. Please prove me wrong.

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