Districts rejected on school bonds will have to rethink and return to voters

Posted Tuesday, May. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Officials in the Birdville and Weatherford school districts will have to go back to the drawing boards.

And they won’t be the most technologically gee-whiz boards, either.

Despite having slews of portable classrooms; aging roofs and air conditioning systems; old and inefficient buildings; and insufficient connectivity infrastructure, neither district got a vote of approval to sell multi-millions of dollars in tax-supported bonds for extensive capital improvement programs.

What now?

A spokesman for the Birdville district said in an e-mail Tuesday that it’s “too early to discuss next steps.”

Although a committee of 50 residents helped develop the contents of a $183.2 million bond package for Birdville, voters opposed it, 4,354 to 3,269.

Officials had called the bonds essential because of aging facilities and overcrowding, plus technology inequities, and they projected saving $15 million in operating costs over 10 years.

But opponents disputed that. The most vocal complaints focused on plans to consolidate four elementary schools into two, which would close Richland Elementary.

Weatherford school leaders sought to put $107.32 million of bond money into a ninth-grade wing, interactive white boards, improved security mechanisms and athletics improvements. But voters spoke even more loudly there, turning it down 3,873 to 1,745.

In a news release, officials said that they would present trustees with short-term options then put together a long-term solution to take back to voters.

Leadership in both districts will have to return with revised proposals — otherwise, voters might believe they were being asked for niceties, not necessities. But serious rethinking will be essential.

Was the amount of money involved too much? Should priorities be more clearly defined and projects separated into multiple propositions?

Could the Birdville district accomplish what is most crucial without the added controversy of school closings?

The local results actually were unusual.

Former school superintendent Joe Smith wrote on texasisd.com that, of 89 districts across Texas holding bond elections Saturday, 72 got voter support. Austinites rejected two of four propositions but still OK’d $490 million of a $892 million package.

Voters in Everman ($40 million) and Tyler ($160.5 million) passed packages. Even tiny Anthony, an 850-student district between El Paso and Las Cruces, N. Mex., got approval for $3 million.

Fort Worth and other districts contemplating bond elections should study what happened in their backyards Saturday. As Smith wrote, “Trust is the major factor considered by voters in school districts asking for funding.”

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