Crucial votes for Fort Worth schools

Posted Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Fort Worth school district’s Nov. 5 bond election can’t be taken lightly — who would, after all, given that $490 million (plus interest) of precious tax money is at stake?

District residents need good reasons for voting for or against each of the three propositions on the ballot. The education of Fort Worth children also is at stake.

The worst reason voiced so far in the run-up to early voting — which starts Monday — comes from opponents who say all public debt in the United States has run up so high that any and all new debt must be rejected.

By all available measurements, FWISD’s ability to shoulder the new debt load is strong. Its ratio of outstanding debt to total assessed property values is significantly lower than many North Texas districts, even when overlapping debt from other local taxing entities is added.

Its debt load per student also is low.

If voters approve all three ballot propositions, district officials say the added tax burden on a district-average $115,000 home will be only about $30 a year.

Still, the package is a bad idea if the district can’t be trusted to execute the proposals responsibly or if the projects are either unneeded or extravagant.

There have been no credible arguments along those lines.

FWISD, with hands-on supervision by Walter Dansby, the 39-year district employee who is now its superintendent, faithfully and responsibly executed its $593.6 million 2007 voter-approved bond program, bringing the projects in on time and under budget. Enough money was left over to finance additional projects.

But a large (more than 80,000 students) and growing urban school district is a complicated enterprise. Its facilities (83 elementary schools, 28 middle schools and sixth-grade centers, 14 high schools and 17 special campuses) and alignment of those facilities for their best academic advantage present an ever-changing environment.

That’s the proper context for evaluating the current bond propositions.

Proposition 1

The largest proposal, at $386.6 million, is the heart and soul of the direction picked unanimously by the school board. It’s what Dansby has said the district needs to give every student in the diverse district an equal opportunity for success.

It includes security and technology upgrades at every school, addition of nearly 300 classrooms to those schools, new kitchens and cafeterias and two new elementary schools.

Proposition 1 would enable FWISD to offer pre-kindergarten classes to every eligible student, including the 3,000 who cannot now be accommodated.

Proposition 2

If the first proposal is the heart and soul of the bond program, Proposition 2 represents its goal of advancing opportunities for its brightest students.

For $73.3 million, it would provide two facilities for qualifying students in grades 6-12: a performing and fine arts academy and a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academy.

Programs like these not only serve current students but are a magnet to FWISD for families relocating to Tarrant County, an incentive for them buy homes in Fort Worth rather than its suburbs.

Proposition 3

This is a $30 million plan to finance the purchase of buses, band uniforms and instruments, maintenance vehicles and classroom furniture.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends votes for Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in the Fort Worth school bond election.

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