Headwinds battering FWISD school bond plan

Posted Friday, Aug. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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norman The Fort Worth school district’s ideas for a $500-plus million bond election in November are in peril, and they really shouldn’t be.

Reports coming out of Thursday’s Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce board meeting on the subject are especially discouraging.

Although chamber officials insist that no vote was taken, apparently there was no significant support for the bond proposal among about 30 board members present. The board has 48 members who serve three-year terms.

Bill Thornton, the chamber’s president and CEO, confirms there was extensive discussion of the potential school bond election, with a lot of sentiment that it should be put off for a year because voters are not ready to pass it.

Other reports say there were many in the room who believe the tax impact would be too high and would draw many protest votes.

Thornton said the board told him to communicate its concerns to FWISD Superintendent Walter Dansby.

Dansby confirmed that the two have talked.

This amounts to ill-timed and unnecessary hand-wringing. And the suggestion that the district should put off the election for a year is completely batty.

Still, the chamber board’s support is crucial if the bond election is to succeed. If that support is not there — and even more, if it is not the enthusiastic, money-raising, campaigning-for-approval kind of support — the bond plan is in very serious trouble.

That’s because no matter how much Dansby and school trustees might believe the bond financing is needed to help make Fort Worth schools better and increase chances for student success, they can’t get out and sell voters on the plan.

By law, they can only supply voters with information. Someone else has to get out and say “Vote Yes!”

Since shortly after consultants presented trustees with a list of potential bond projects on July 29, Dansby has said he is counting on the chamber to fulfill that role, as it has in the past.

Clearly, some serious coming-together has to happen.

Trustees have planned a workshop meeting Monday for further discussions of the bond plan. They’ve planned a meeting Aug. 23 to vote on whether to call the election for Nov. 5.

Dansby is still the key person in the process. It’s up to him to present his vision for the district to the board.

It shouldn’t be “we can do this or we can do that.” It must be “this is what we should do.”

There’s no law against him trying to sell the board on that vision, and he should work hard at it.

He’s also the first person who must be convinced that the bonds are needed. In the past, he has presented a solid case that they are — if for no other reason than to make sure that all students across the district have equal school facilities and an equal chance at success.

More than 80,000 students are depending on him.

The first vote belongs to the nine trustees. Dansby has outlined three ways to package bond proposals, one costing $585 million, another $667 million and the third $777 million.

The property tax rate impact would be 5.5 cents per $100 in assessed value on the least costly package, 7 cents on the middle package and 9 cents on the third.

There’s still time to tell the superintendent to come back with less costly options.

The idea of waiting for a better time is not a good one. If these projects are needed, construction cost increases will surely make them more expensive later.

These elections are limited to May or November each year. A city bond election already is planned in May. A school bond election would have a tough time making its way through the political minefield of the November 2014 state elections for governor and other offices.

Thornton says if trustees sort through the concerns about the bonds and call an election, it’s “highly likely” the chamber will support it.

That’s what should happen.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830 Twitter: @mnorman9

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