Our Schools, Your Money; Bond Elections, Our Decisions

On November 6, 2007 registered voters will decide the fate of several school district’s proposed bond propositions. The Spring Branch Independent School District has filed a bond proposition for $ 597.1 million, sighting the need for replacing 12 existing schools, acquisition of new school buses, technology upgrades, and replacing existing security systems.Does this proposition, in excess of half-a-billion dollars, address the current problems with goals of providing a higher quality of education for our children? This is the question each of us will evaluate and render our opinion on Nov. 6, 2007.

Evaluation should start with existing problem identification to determine how well this proposition addresses our identified problem list. The issues that seem to come to mind are (1) higher levels of school drop outs, (2) controlled substance usage, (3) lower student achievement levels on standardized test, (4) poorer preparation performance for higher education, (5) increased teen pregnancy, and (6) increased criminal and gang related activities. Reviewing the proposition, the proposed security enhancements, with a price tag of around $6 million and just 1% of the proposed bond, appears to be the only request which could potentially address any of our identified current issues.

Perhaps we need to take a more detailed look to ascertain if the other proposed request could resolve our problem list. It appears that most of the requested monies center on the demolition and construction of new schools. The proposed budget for school replacement is $ 241.1 million with the argument presented by the school administration that it will cost $ 55 million to renovate the schools that they have determined need to be replaced. Therefore, rather than renovate and expend the $ 55 million, somehow the school district decided to recommend and request our approval for the $ 241.1 million for replacement.

When I reflect back on the “classrooms” used by Jesus, the greatest teacher known to mankind, it becomes apparent to me that buildings and campuses are not the essential ingredient in acquiring or delivering a desired education. The school district has sighted the age of the schools, age range stated of 30-40 years, as reason for replacement. I have a problem with this replacement argument. Many of our buildings all around the country are far in excess of this age criteria including the White House, U.S. Congressional and Judicial Buildings, our State Capitol, many of our Court Houses throughout Texas, and even the Exxon Building (along with numerous other buildings); yes, and almost forgot, a lot of our residential homes from which our students attend these schools.

At this stage of our investigation we should look at previous Spring Branch Independent School Districts’ bond propositions to see how the money was spent and if our list of problems was resolved. In 1993 and 1999 SBISD submitted bond propositions to the voters and attained approval. Reviewing the 1999 bond proposition for $250 million, their promotional brochure states: “The proposal will allow the district to begin financing capital improvement projects today to keep schools clean, safe, and competitive tomorrow…and for many years to come. Purchasing property and constructing new buildings is costly, and officials believe additional student growth can be handled with expansion or renovation of existing facilities and building centers for pre-kindergarten-age children. New classrooms and multi-purpose rooms will be added as necessary.”

The brochure also projected Enrollment by 2007 to be in excess of 38,000; however, enrollment figures are more in the range of 32,000.

Both 1993 and 1999 bond propositions indicated the need to address security issues and technology upgrades for all the SBISD campuses. (This is beginning to sound repetitive, i.e. buildings, technology upgrades, security upgrades, etc.) Both bonds were voter approved and all the SBISD recommendations for security and building renovation have been performed. Apparently, the 2007 bond proposal now reverses their recommendation for renovation vs. new building construction. After spending millions of dollars on the 1999 renovation projects and bringing our schools up to meet Federal and State standards, now, SBISD recommends demolishing 12 of the newly (2004) renovated elementary schools, having the debris hauled to the dump, and building new schools while the taxpayer will continue paying on the 1999 and 1993 bonds till 2029. If the 2007 bond proposition is voter approved we will continue paying for an additional 30 years or 2037.

Well, after that short review, it is apparent that the school district has incorrectly forecasted growth figures, seems to basically express the same repetitive needs, has an insatiable thirst for bonds that continue building debt; but, unfortunately, none of the six identified problems have been resolved or exhibited any indication of noticeable improvement towards attaining any of the identified problem resolution.

In summary, the lavish professionally done 2007 Bond Proposition coupled with the strategically orchestrated “PR” campaign is very impressive. The way it is being presented to the public and “pushed” for voter approval I won’t be too surprised to wake up one morning and see Dr. Klussman on “Good Morning America” with Diane Sawyer hosting the Fall Concert Series and Dr. Klussman “singing” a revised rendition of Nick Jagger’s “Too Much Is Never Enough”. I’m impressed with the campaign strategy; but, the track record of previous bond expenditures, i.e. 1993 and 1999, provide enough insight to indicate this proposition will not resolve our identified problem. Hopefully, other voters will be of the same opinion and vote “NO” against this bond proposition.

Our school administration seems to select election years that do not concur with main national elections. My opinion is this is done in hopes of lesser voter turn out with the idea that the voters who do turn out are those involved and interested in the proposition passage. Unfortunately, this may not represent the “will” of the majority of the constituents. Please vote and hopefully you will agree with my assessment and vote NO.

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