Bond election based on voter confidence

Posted Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Wounds from Fort Worth school district bond projects botched a decade ago still hurt.

Bond money misspent, shoddy construction, even outright fraud plagued the district’s building programs from 1999 to 2005. The resulting harm to the district’s credibility and trust among voters was devastating.

Those problems were turned around after voters approved a $552 bond program in 2007. Board members, administrators and just about everyone else in the district were determined that things would never again go so badly wrong.

That determination was the guiding theme after 2007, but two details stand out in keeping that bond program on the straight-and-narrow:

• Direct project-by-project supervision from Walter Dansby, then a deputy superintendent and now FWISD’s superintendent.

• Management of the overall bond program by AECOM Inc., a Los Angeles-based company with a Fort Worth office.

Dansby and AECOM are in place again as the district proposes a $490 million program in the Nov. 5 election. Early voting began Monday and continues through Friday.

Their experience in bringing the 2007 projects in on time and under budget should give voters confidence again this year.

Propositions on the ballot are:

• $386.6 million for school renovations, additional classrooms, security and technology upgrades, cafeteria improvements, two new elementary schools and space for districtwide pre-kindergarten.

• $73.3 million for a performing and fine arts academy and a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academy, each serving grades 6 through 12.

• $30 million for buses, band uniforms and instruments, maintenance vehicles and classroom furniture.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board has recommended approval of all three propositions. Voters can pick one, two, three or none of them.

AECOM’s services have not been cheap. The district has paid the company $27.8 million since 2007. Based on that same scale, AECOM could be due as much as $4 million to $6 million a year for the new bond projects.

Some experts say FWISD could find other program managers to do the work for less. Many such companies offer these services to school districts and other local governments.

That’s true. But the district has been there and done that, and it didn’t work out well.

Trustees and administrators have options to scale back AECOM’s work, and the company doesn’t get paid if it doesn’t perform. Voters should have confidence that a winning formula is in place.

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