Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is the Board on board with the Bond?

Open letter to SAISD Board:

Is this Board on board the good ship School Bond? I'm seriously starting to wonder.

When I was in opposition to the last bond, I always 'fessed up, I knew the district needed that amount of money, but I could not go along with the direction of that bond. Closing, consolidating and moving elementary schools out of their neighbohoods, moving Central across town, I knew that was not what the voters wanted. The voters agreed with that assessment, 2/1.

I suggested, and offered published material from people who had more experience than any of us, that a critical element to passing a school bond was "polling, polling, and polling". in short, before we formulate a package, find out what the community wants and how much the voters will be willing to spend. Then track response and either amend the bond or target voters as needed. As I reminded Board, most of whom were not on deck for the last sucessful bond in '96, that bond had to be amended between presentation and passage.

Then, again referring to those successful bonds, select an election date where your bond is the headliner. Last November, with no candidates running would have been great. Last May, even with a hot Police Chief race, the bond would have gotten at least second billing.

As it is, the bond is almost lost in the political noise. Every office from tax assessor to President is up, we are so awash in political ads the voters start to tune them out, vast sums are being spent and one has to scream to be heard at all. The SAISD response; not nearly what was put out for the failed bond. No newspaper insert, a few 5x10 newspaper ads, a little radio from the PAC, I'm told there is some TV, but I haven't seen it, and I am a solid political junkie.

Most voters assume this is the last bond with a fresh coat of paint. The message that this bond is 180 degrees from the last is not getting out there. I was discussing election preparations with my Democrat compatriot in this precinct and the bond came up. This is someone with enough political motivation to serve on election days, and she was under the impression we were selling the same Edsel we put out 18 months ago! It only took me 10 minutes to convince her to vote for the bond, and talk to her friends, but she had been under the misapprehension this was the last bond redux.

There is no polling, but my political antennae tell me we are at this moment going to lose by over 10%, possibly a replay of last bond. The promised "media blitz" is underwhelming to say the least. More effort was put into the last bond at this point in the election run-up than has been this time, and we are lost in the background noise this time. Last bond, the only competition for attention was a mayoral race so pre-determined that Lown won every precinct in town, his challenger's neighborhood included.

Another bit of my advice the Board discounted; If we are to have a good chance, get the message out before early voting. THIS IS NOT THE LAST BOND! It is a dead-lock certainty this election will set turnout records. IF SAISD gets its message on high enough volume to be heard, over 2,000 voters have already voted and can't change their minds. I'm holding with a turnout over/under of 36,000, 40% of whom will have already voted by Nov. 4.

It pains me to say this, but this bond is all but dead. Without a serious effort by SAISD and the PAC, I could safely order a funeral wreath without fear of wasting the money. I have shown up and offered my promotion as a former opponent to as many presentations as my job allowed. I wouldn't use all the fingers on one hand to count the Board members I have seen at these meetings.

If there is any prayer of passage, it will be in your collective AND individual full-throated support to every elective demographic you have a connection to. Inflation has already reduced the physical results of a $150 million bond by at least 10% from last Nov., and that figure isn't going to improve as it ages.

The last bond that failed was the first ever to go down in SAISD. The voters are not uncaring, but at least on this bond, too many are un-informed or mis-informed They confuse this bond with the failed measure and most of the fault for that lies with SAISD Board. Last bond, SAISD pushed the envelope as to "informational" advertizing. Well, we don't have to fret that this time, nobody is likely to accuse you of crossing the line in your enthuisasm.

Editorial letters and comments of late show that many voters do not understand that A) SAISD and City of San Angelo are distinct governmental entities; and B) this bond is diametrically opposite of that which we defeated 18 months ago. A&B are points that must be made to the voters. Quickly folks, we are "burning daylight".

That 18 month gap between losing and new issue is regrettable and expensive. A point that I have tried to hammer home, this bond is not just "for the children", a trite phrase too many politicians have used. We cannot have a first-rate city with a second-rate school system. Quality schools are every bit as important to a city's prospects as the streets you drive on or the pipes your water comes through.

This is truly a "pay me now or pay me later" moment, and paying later will not be the less expensive option.


  1. I agree that something needs to be done. My children are 12 and 10 and will be attending middle school in portables if nothing is done soon. Previous leadership has made many mistakes, but this is a good compromise with few frills. Hopefully the big voter turnout from seniors, who don't often vote in school elections. One senior told me "It won't cost me anything, so I might as well vote for it."

  2. I've looked at the proposed plans and I just don't see where the huge amounts of money are being spent. It seems like locally we pay too much to contractors and get crappy facilities - anybody been to the Y lately?

  3. Anon 3:23, you have to remember that commercial building construction is much more expensive than standard home construction. A classroom will get as much wear and tear in a week as a house does in a year. The cost to meet regulations such as ADA add on more costs. Throw fire protection, special construction for science labs, computer and other technology wiring, etc. and soon school construction far exceeds home construction costs.